Gary Bettman offers up 'golden opportunity' with 50-50 NHL deal

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media in New York, N.Y., Sept. 13, 2012. (CARLO...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media in New York, N.Y., Sept. 13, 2012. (CARLO ALLEGRI/Reuters)

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:16 AM ET

CALGARY - The players would be crazy to turn this down.

After more than a month of rampant “he-done-us-wrong” diatribes directed at Gary Bettman, the very man who was painted as having taken the game away has suddenly offered to give it back.

More to the point, Bettman has given the players a chance to save face.

Oh sure there’s plenty of finagling left to do on the smaller details of his unexpected proposal Tuesday that would see an 82-game season start Nov. 2. But by giving the players at shot at a 50-50 split in revenues it would no longer look like the players rolled over.

It would look like every other major sport does — like a true partnership. (“Look” being the operative word.)

Just as his insulting opening salvo last month caused players to dig in their heels, his olive branch-type offering Tuesday gives them every opportunity to return to meaningful discussions with an end in sight.

In one fell swoop Bettman has turned a season on the brink into a real shot at squeezing in all 82 games.

Technically the onus was on the players to close the chasm between the two but now that the league has taken the first massive step towards a compromise the pressure is all on the players to come to their senses and realize this is their golden opportunity to end the insanity.

Botch this and the little PR war both sides seem so keen on winning is a tilted decidedly in the owners favour while everyone else loses.

Screw this up and the dwindling number of diehard fans who are left will join the apathetic masses who watched Slap Shot instead of Tuesday Night hockey on TSN last night and didn’t mind one bit.

Key to the players should be the fact there is no talk of rollbacks as the latest proposal would ensure players get all the money they’ve signed for.

Expect NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr and the players to push back hard on the five-year limit the owners want on contracts. Fair enough. They probably won’t be thrilled unrestricted free agency gets pushed back one year in the new proposal to age 28 or after eight years of service. Big deal.

Sure the players are giving up over $200 million in revenue if their split moves from 57% to 50%, but surely that’s more palatable than the $1.8 billion they’d give up if this season is inevitably lost.

Entry-level deals remain at three years, salary arbitration remains in place, training camp is only a week long and revenue sharing is several hundred million dollars.

Palatable for players? That’s putting it mildly.

A quick reminder for the players here: The owners have considerably more leverage, lads, and time is ticking away on this offer, the season and your limited careers.

With a little tinkering sure to be done, this 50-50 split lets both sides keep their dignity and we move forward with a game too many people rely upon for a living, not to mention entertainment.

The new league offer came one day after word leaked the NHL had hired a spin doctor to conduct a focus group aimed to help better phrase its messaging during the work stoppage. Critics erroneously suggested it meant the NHL took its eye off the ball. Au contraire. It was simply preparing for the long haul while also finalizing its surprising proposal.

As Bettman said this offer mas made in the spirit of taking one last attempt at salvaging an 82-game campaign.

A failure to convert over the next nine days and you can bet the next significant deadline they’ll deal with will revolve around whether any hockey can be played at all this season.

It’s that serious.

Don’t screw this up boys. Tinker but don’t blow it.

Surely you too can see this is now your game to lose.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ericfrancis

- Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.


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