NHL owners and players took the first step toward ending stalemated negotiations Tuesday by building momentum through a seven-hour bargaining session. But the critical test of sustaining that momentum probably will come Wednesday when the two sides are expected to discuss the owners’ “make-whole” provision pertaining to players’ existing contracts.
The major issue in this 53-day old lockout is owners’ desire to reduce the players’ share of revenue from 57% to 50%. Players have made offers in that direction, but are balking against a sharp drop that would require them to give back salary through escrow next season.
Their position is that they signed their individual contracts in good faith and don’t want to receive less than what their contract says they should earn.
Owners did offer a “make-whole” provision to protect the salary value, but their original plan called for that money to come out of players’ future share and not the owners’ share. To re-start negotiations, owners have now agreed to discuss the make-whole issue.
To what extent owners are willing to fund that “make whole” probably will say much about how Wednesday’s sessions will go.
If owners can come up with a creative, owner-funded provision to protect player salaries for a couple of seasons until revenue growth protects them, then it will be much easier for players to agree to a 50-50 split.
The insiders’ read on what happened Tuesday is that the length of the meetings indicates a sincere effort by both sides to forge a deal.