One of the words NHL critics like to use when describing the league’s first offer to the NHLPA is “draconian,” which can be defined as excessively severe or cruel.
The offer, presented in July, called for the players’ share of league revenue to be cut from 57 percent to 43 percent, along with a number of restrictions on player contracting.
But on Sunday, commissioner Gary Bettman refuted the idea the proposal was overly aggressive and, consequently, a mistake.
“I think the view some have of our first offer is fairly naive as it relates to collective bargaining,” Bettman told the Winnipeg Free Press on Sunday. “A sophisticated negotiator would have looked at it and said, ‘Obviously they want a 50-50 split.’ If we’re at 57 and they propose 43, they must be telegraphing where they want to end. If your intention was to use it in an inflammatory way, you could do that. If your intention was to make a deal, you could pretty much chart out what the course should be.”
At the time of the offer, Canucks goalie Cory Schneider seemed to echo Bettman’s take.
“I think the only thing I can say is it’s a first offer,” Schneider told the Vancouver Sun. “It’s a starting point. We’re going to consider it and figure out what our counter proposal is going to be. Yes, it is a little shocking when you first look at it but, again, that’s how negotiations work. You aim high and then try to move back from there.”
But NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr has since said that the offer left him “considerably disappointed,” and it’s become clear the players have used it as a rallying point.
So even if Bettman’s intention was to telegraph the NHL’s end goal, if instead it was used to embolden the players and led them to distrust the league even more, it’s hard to see how it helped the process.
Like Frank Luntz says, “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.”