NHL owners, players exchange proposals

Posted: December 06, 2012

NEW YORK - If you've ever purchased a car, you will recall the haggling process before the papers are signed and you're handed the keys.

Throughout the negotiating, the car salesman will pause and take a break, depending on your demands. "Let me check with my manager to see if we can do that," is the customary response, while he or she leaves you waiting.

That's exactly what went on at the NHL's second straight day of marathon negotiating at the Westin New York at Times Square in Manhattan, where the two sides again met from 2 o'clock in the afternoon through press time late Wednesday night.

In other words, the NHL and its Players' Association each traded proposals, briefly adjourned meetings to caucus with executives and then returned to continue the discussion.

The format of bargaining - which on Wednesday included 17 players and the same six owners - remained unchanged from Tuesday, in that they did not formally include NHL commissioner Gary Bettman nor NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr.

For the first time this week, the two sides swapped written proposals. The NHLPA first offered one in the afternoon, and after reviewing it for nearly an hour, the NHL countered. The two sides took a dinner break and then resumed the closed-door, tight-lipped negotiations.

Few details have been leaked to the media. Neither side wants to risk blowing up the progress made at such a delicate and fragile stage of the process. Quite literally, the 2012-13 season is teetering on the edge - and there is no hyperbole there.

Both sides have made such a momentous push - likely with concessions from each - to bridge the gap that it would not be a stretch for either one to throw their hands up in the air and walk out if it appears no deal can realistically be brokered this week.

The best way to describe the scene would be "tense."

As a car buyer, that's easy to understand. You want to save the most money you can. The dealer wants to make as much as possible. And even if you drive a Maybach, you probably can't conceive the amount of money at stake.

From an economic standpoint, the biggest sticking point of the lockout is the division of hockey-related revenue between players and owners. They're fighting how to split a $3.3 billion pie. Since reports on Wednesday noted that the NHL's offer was on a 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement, we could be talking about a total of $45.6 billion over the lifetime of the deal, assuming a 5 percent growth rate.

That's an incredible amount of money. And it does not factor for inflation. Who knows what the American and Canadian dollars will look like in a decade?

Yes, there was extreme positivity following Tuesday night's breakthrough between players and owners, led by Sidney Crosby and Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle. Ideas from Tuesday needed to be translated to paper on Wednesday.

Each side is still looking for leverage in some way. The simple approach would be to say that players need to bend on economic demands and owners need to concede on contractual demands.

It's not really that easy because, in a negotiation, what you're getting in one area might affect what you're willing to give more in another.

To watch the "reporting" and the ebb and the flow from social media on Wednesday was an act of high comedy. Media members are not privy to details. Most are trying to gather anything they can from any source - be it from players walking into or out of a room, discussing details at a dinner break, or even the placement of a podium in a room.

Nothing positive or negative can be truly deduced from those insights. Social media wasn't made for high-stress negotiations. The truth is positivity and negativity probably waned throughout the day in the actual meeting rooms.

Grinding through months worth of hard lines is not easy. Especially not while the clock is ticking.

Many believe the NHL would like to have a new deal in place by Friday. That could allow for a 60-game season, which is believed to be the magic number that would allow the league to collect full sponsorship revenue for an entire season. Any number of games played under that, the thinking goes, would require a proration of dollars.

Deadlines have been bluffed before in this process - and that's important to keep in mind. But if those numbers are true, it would be in the best interest of both sides to come to a deal, since that means a bigger, healthier pie to divide.

If a deal is brokered, it would take 2 or 3 days for players to return from Europe, plus a week to 10 days for training camp, before a season could start.

Yes, it is true that a deal is a deal. True negotiators, though, say that the sign of a good deal is when both sides are a little unhappy in the end.

Wednesday was a sweaty, frustrating day for both stubborn sides. No one will deny that. But as any car buyer knows, taking a momentary pause to check flexibility is not a sign of weakness or negativity. Not if the salesman returns to the table, as each side did faithfully.

Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: philly.com/FrequentFlyers

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