Can NHL offer trigger a deal?

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

So, the NHL basically said to the players yesterday, put your mouth where your money is.

The NHL basically told the players, "Say yes to your own offer. Let's try it your way and if it doesn't work, we'll do it our way."

That sounds fair, huh?

In offering to accept the NHLPA's offer of Dec. 9 -- that was the one with the 24% salary rollback -- the NHL is giving the players the chance to back up its words, that a luxury tax will slow salary growth and give the NHL the cost certainty it craves.

But now, with the chance to put their proposal in action and prove it will work the way they say it will, the players have backed down.

Hey, this could wind up being nothing more than a public relations move by the NHL. The league is the first to offer what appears to be a compromise and last night, at first glance, the league was looking like the good guys.

But the offer did open the door, for the first time, to move past the "philosophical differences" chasm which has divided the two sides. This offer could get the two sides past the "cap-no cap" stalemate.

The NHLPA is willing to live with their 9/12 offer, otherwise they never would have made it, right?

The NHL is saying it's willing to live with it for two years.

But both sides know there's no way the NHL owners are going to be able to restrain themselves and prevent one of the four triggers from tripping, which would activate the NHL's offer of Feb. 5 (a salary cap tied to league revenues) for the last four years of the NHL's proposed deal.

But, rather than the cap-no cap dead end, could the bargaining battleground now shift to finding four triggers upon which both sides are willing to gamble?

For sure, the NHL is going to lowball the players with their first offer of the four triggers, but everything is open to negotiation.

The four triggers were:

- More than 55% of revenues paid out in salaries.

- Three teams having payrolls of more than $42 million (all terms US) apiece.

- Average payroll of the top three teams being 33% more than the average of the bottom three teams.

- Average team compensation exceeding $36.5 million.

What if those numbers could be negotiated?

The 24% rollback puts the revenues paid out in salaries at about 63%. If you split the difference, that's just over 57%.

Players boss Bob Goodenow said the NHLPA "forecast over three teams would be over the $42-million area."

Okay, so how many?

Is the association willing to accept a trigger of five over $42 million?

Based on team payrolls for last season and factoring in the 24% rollback the players offered in their 9/12 offer, there would be seven teams over the $42-million threshold.

A BRIDGE TOO FAR?

The biggest gap to be bridged is the NHL's trigger of the average of the top three teams' payrolls not exceeding 33% of the bottom three.

Again, based on last year's salary figures and the 24% rollback, the average of the top three teams was $56,474,006. The average of the bottom three teams was $18,103,200.

Based on the NHL's trigger, the top three teams would have to drop to an average of just over $24 million.

Sounds ridiculous, but don't forget, in the last offers from both sides, the salary floor in the league would be boosted, bringing the top and bottom closer together.

It remains to be seen if there's enough common ground or time or will to get a deal done.

But there's still a chance.

I chuckle when people say the NHL should have called off this season already so everybody "can get on with their lives." If this season gets gassed, it will only mean more uncertainty, more wondering, more discomfort for all concerned.

The worries of an arena worker or a sports bar staffer who use their wages for their kids' education or a well-deserved vacation will shift from this year to next. Will that money be there next year? Will this have to be a summer of even more belt tightening?

Those who say, "Call off this season, already," should think twice.

They are probably those who can most afford to be so cavalier.


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