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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman provides needles for your CBA optimism balloons

Greg Wyshynski
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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on Wednesday that there's a "wide gap" between the owners and the players after the NHLPA's "alternate" proposal was released this week — and he's right.

I didn't understand the champagne being popped over the players' proposal on Tuesday, unless it was solely based in contrast with the NHL's bat-crap crazy opening salvo. (Which, it should be said, got the ball rolling on these dueling proposals.)

The NHLPA proposal was short on details; and while it put the brakes on salary escalation for the next three seasons, it still managed to leave the players' share of revenues at 54 percent (per an excellent Michael Grange column) when everyone knows the endgame here is likely a 50/50 split, or 51/49 for the players at best.

That's where the NFL went. That's where the NBA went. That's where the NHL is going to go, despite NHLPA chief Donald Fehr believing there's another pro sport the league is intentionally overlooking.

"The glaring omission is baseball. Baseball has no cap. It has very substantial revenue sharing, and it has no labor strife," Fehr said on Wednesday.

"When we hear the reference to the other sports, we have to understand that they're reference to make a point," he said. "It looks pretty much like there's a playbook out there."

In other words, the NHL is picking and choosing its examples when it comes to other sports. That's even more evident when you consider what's at the heart of the NHLPA proposal: revenue sharing.

From Jeff Klein of the NY Times:

Compared with other major professional North American sports leagues, the N.H.L.'s revenue-sharing plan is less extensive. The N.F.L. shares as much as 80 percent of the owners' annual portion of revenues among its teams. In Major League Baseball, 31 percent of all teams' local revenue is subject to revenue sharing, with more money added to the pot each year through additional means. By 2013-14, the N.B.A.'s new deal will include a transfer of $196 million from the richest teams and provide the league's neediest teams up to $16 million each, up from last season's levels of $5.8 million each.

Under the N.H.L.'s current revenue-sharing plan, less than 15 percent of revenue is estimated to be shared among clubs.

According to the Times, the NHLPA's revenue sharing plan was "designed by Steve Fehr, Donald's brother and the architect of baseball's revenue-sharing plan."

It would open up revenue sharing in the NHL to a team like the New York Islanders, who don't qualify for it under the current CBA's standards but logically should given their financial realities.

What the NHLPA did in its proposal was announce that it intends to carve up the burden of revenue sharing with the big-market teams, partnering with them in order to make the rest of the NHL's clubs stronger.

"What the players did was indicate to the owners that if there are issues that are remaining, they are club-specific issues. If the clubs that don't need assistance are willing to partner with the players to help get at the issues of the clubs that need assistance, we're prepared to do that," said Donald Fehr on Thursday.

Here's Fehr after Wednesday's negotiations:

Again, the optimism after the NHLPA's first proposal was a bit too emphatic for what that proposal actually contained. But there's no question that it's a positive starting point for the players in this CBA kerfuffle, having established that they're not fighting the salary cap, that they're willing to surrender a percentage of overall revenue and that they want to work with the NHL on meaningful revenue sharing.

But the lack of a traditional salary rollback, the absence of a 50/50 revenue split and status quo on other key issues — like contract duration — defines the "wide gap" Bettman cited on Wednesday.

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