One day after receiving a proposal from the league that commissioner Gary Bettman labelled "meaningful" and "significant," the NHL Players' Association made it clear Wednesday that it didn't share that view.
Donald Fehr, the NHLPA's executive director, took issue with the fact the offer included a reduction in the players' share of revenue to 46 per cent — when factoring in changes to how hockey-related revenue is calculated — and said it would see the amount of money players give up to escrow increase "significantly."
As a result, the union concluded the proposal wouldn't actually see current contracts paid out in full.
"From a players' standpoint, you should understand, it doesn't make much of a difference," said Fehr. "Should the player not get the dollar value that is on his contract because there is a rollback, which is simply a name for crossing out one number and writing in another, or whether he doesn't get an amount because there is escrow, he still doesn't get it.
"It amounts to the same thing."
The union plans to deliver a counter-proposal by the end of the week, perhaps as soon as Thursday.
With a Sept. 15 deadline for a lockout creeping closer, progress would be made if the two sides could simply start speaking the same language. Case in point: the calculation of hockey-related revenue — or HRR — which has emerged as a sticking point in talks.
That number is currently used to determine the salary cap, with players receiving 57 per cent, and the NHL has proposed changes that would reduce the total pot available. According to a source, the league would like minor-league salaries to count as an expense and believes caps should be removed on revenue-generating activities such as concessions, among other things.
"What we're trying to do with the definition of changes is better reflect the reality," said Bettman.
Fehr believes the changes have served to complicate negotiations.
The proposal the league tabled Tuesday called for revenues to be split 50-50 for the final three years. However, by the union's calculations, the actual number players would end up receiving is equivalent to 46 per cent under the current system — a claim Bettman acknowledged to be "in the ballpark."
With the ambiguity created by the redefinition of HRR, not to mention a smaller pot of money to draw salaries from, the players are calling for the status quo.
"From our side, it's better to leave things the same because everyone understands what they mean and everyone understands what the effect is," said Fehr. "It makes it much easier that way."
Nothing is coming easy in these negotiations.
Bettman and Fehr were surprisingly candid with reporters Wednesday as each discussed specific aspects of the NHL's latest proposal, some of which had already been leaked out to the media. They both showed a desire to try and shape the larger public discussion around the talks.
Fehr attempted to downplay the suggestion the NHL had made a significant move by increasing the players' share of revenue from 43 per cent in its July proposal to 46 per cent in the one unveiled Tuesday.
"If the players said they wanted to increase the players' share by the same amount, which is 14 points of HRR that they reduced it, that would be 71 per cent," said Fehr. "If you took it down to 68 per cent, how would you characterize that? I don't know.
"You'll have to make that judgment."
Bettman no doubt rankled the union when he later suggested players should feel no "entitlement" to 57 per cent of revenues just because that number was included in the agreement coming out of the 2004-05 lockout. He noted that it wasn't "extraordinary" for the league to propose that it be decreased and cited recent deals in the NFL and NBA as proof.
"There's no sense the 57 per cent is baked in perpetuity," said Bettman. "The fact of the matter is if the players have been getting 57 per cent, we were getting 43 per cent — and we were paying all the expenses of running the game, running the league and running our clubs.
"Any sense that our initial offer (of 43 per cent for players) didn't have any sense of fairness to it then you need to consider what is fair looking at both sides."
He then reiterated that the league's decision to increase the proposed share this week was a big step.
"We've moved ... in an attempt to gain traction on this process because we very much want to make a deal and we want to do it on a timely basis," said Bettman. "That's our hope. That's our goal.
"That's why we have to wait to see what the PA will do (Thursday)."