Top Shelf: NHL puts pressure on players

Contrary to what you may have heard, the NHL offering a 50-50 split with the players does not mean the end of the lockout is imminent.

That's not to say the new proposal NHL owners offered up on Tuesday couldn't be the impetus that gets us started down the road to progress, but this battle is far from over.

The league's latest stab at designing a new collective bargaining agreement is important because it's the first offer the NHL Players' Association can't simply dismiss out of hand. Even if the NHLPA thinks it's a bad deal for its members overall, few fans are going to look past the attention-grabbing 50-50 share of hockey-related revenue (HRR).

But the devil is in the details and the NHL is counting on most people will avoid those details.

The league was correct in assuming that fans will focus on the plan's 50-50 split because it's the easiest part of the proposal to understand. It also doesn't hurt that the league says the full 82-game season, which would begin on Nov. 2, can be salvaged if the NHLPA accepts this offer by Oct. 25.

Yet, a summary glance at the league's CBA proposal -- the full text of which can be found here: -- shows that there is plenty of room for negotiation.

While the league's offer contains new ideas concerning issues like the salary cap, contract lengths and free agency, the new CBA proposal also avoids the issue of HRR by saying, "we agree to retain the CBA's current HRR definitions." The proposal leaves room "to clarify mutually identified ambiguities in the CBA," but the vagueness of that statement seems like it will lead to more questions than answers.

For months now, it's been clear that the most significant obstacle to getting a deal done is coming up with a new definition of HRR that is amenable to both the owners and players. So, offering a CBA proposal that says the old definition of HRR is acceptable would be like a Treaty of Versailles that didn't result in an end to World War I.

If constructing a new definition of HRR was important enough to push back the start of the season, then it's highly unlikely these labor issues will go away until that problem is dealt with.

There were a handful of players who expressed optimism shortly after the proposal was announced on Tuesday, but as time has passed, the new offer has been getting increasingly negative reviews by NHLPA members. I guess you could call that the "Fehr Factor," as NHLPA boss Donald Fehr began the process of putting the offer into context for his constituents.

One example of a Fehr-approved response came from Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa.

"I think people have to be cautious about this 50/50 split," Bieksa told the blog "This is, as far as I'm concerned, a PR gimmick; it sounds great on paper but everyone should be asking themselves, '50/50 of what?' Everything's relative."

Bieksa is correct in identifying the owners' offer as a public relations move, but even the NHLPA has to admit that as far as gimmicks go, this was a successful one from the league's standpoint. The players have been dominating the PR battle throughout this labor standoff, but they had to expect their names would get dragged through the mud at some point.

Let's face it, the NHLPA did not hire Fehr to simply keep him on the bench when it comes time to negotiate. The players lost big time when the last CBA battle wiped out the 2004-05 season and they have no intentions of losing that badly again.

The owners' deal achieves what it set out to do and that is to put the pressure on the players for a change. It's a positive development compared to the lack of progress we've been getting for months now, but in the end this CBA proposal is not much more than a jumping-off point for the start of serious negotiations.

In reality, until Fehr and the NHLPA deliver a counter-proposal, which they are expected to do before the league-imposed Oct. 25 deadline, we won't have a complete picture of where the negotiations stand. That rebuttal could come as soon as Thursday, when the two sides are expected to meet again.

Tuesday's news offered a glimpse of optimism, nothing more and nothing less. However, while it's fair to categorize the latest CBA proposal as a positive development, it's still one that should be tempered with a significant amount of caution.