Now I used to get into a lot of arguments online, so I know a lot of the tricks that people do in order to gain the upper hand. One of them is being employed by both sides of the negotiation, and it came more to life yesterday.
Most arguments have to do with language, words (semantics), what meanings they package, and how they're contextually used. Since language is arbitrary, no matter how much it's "scienced" or "lawyered", it's still heavily shrouded with rhetoric. Words don't package the very same meanings they did yesterday and the day before, so our decoding of them is more or less done on a best guess estimate.
When reporters say that two sides 'aren't speaking the same language', you know that this means that they have no grounds with which they can negotiate with each other. There's no middle ground because they're not even on the same planet. So the NHL's move was to get the NHLPA to land on their planet so they can actually start addressing the systematic issues. Fehr, as a negotiator, knew that the less he actually negotiated (and more time he waited), the more the NHL would get desperate and want to make better and better offers. In essence, both sides are playing the whole process using their trade and doing the forbidden, which is sacrificing what the fans offer to the game as leverage against one another.
So yesterday, Fehr goes on to say, "the players are making huge concessions". Concessions is a dirty word that does not belong in any negotiation whatsoever. This word ought to be thrown out most of the times it's used because it actually serves no purpose but a rhetorical one as it doesn't address the real problem.
Other words that are dangerous are "middle ground" "bargaining". Yes, the game is a business, but the people who are buying and selling? That's the fans, WE'RE the ones you make middle ground and bargaining ticket prices with. You two are just two other spheres, two children to a system, that is, the CBA, now expired.
The real problem is this: The system doesn't work.
Concessions don't fix a system; it's a nice word people use when they declare to you that they are making sacrifices (another pretty word) towards the situation so that you can make sacrifices. It creates an invisible currency called "bargaining" and creates an invisible "middle ground" in the heads of the other person so that the other person is manipulated into accepting a deal that doesn't address systematic issues. Of course the NHLPA is going to use this word, because it knows that if it looks at the system the "other" way, they have to sacrifice much more. So instead of doing that, they play mind games with the media and with the NHL to make it "appear" as though they're offering a way out.
Fehr is a very intelligent man and really crafty at what he does. Instead of working off the NHL's language, he tries to establish more leverage by changing their language so that they have much less awareness in the process. So he suggests alternative systems in which the players benefit.
Daly and the NHL will not be so fooled. Fehr's met his match.
There is only one system, and that's money, and there is only one to thing negotiate, and that's how it should be distributed. The rest is nothing but rhetorical wizardry.
I'm telling you right now, the NHL would accept a deal of lowering revenue share year by year (55, 53, 51, 50) IF the PA sacrificed all of the elements of the broken system that fixes the problem.
The problem, just like in an argument, is that both sides have to actually agree on what the problem is. Simple or impatient people often end up ignoring to locate the problem and so they're forced to bargain based on their emotions and that's where "sacrifice" and "middle ground" come into play. The wiser see the problem right away, but in order to pull both parties into the same territory, they must both openly admit to that problem so that they can agree on the course of action it takes to fix it.
I'm not certain this has ever happened because both sides are still trying to control the language, except the NHL has had a hold of the language (the system is broken) the whole time and presented a solution immediately in the summer (a pretty laughable one). But it addressed a lot of the things it truly wanted, including entry level limitations, free agency, contracting limits, and capping contract variations so that there's no uberlong back-diving contracts that guarantees job security (in a competitive sport). It's an excuse to pay people if they're no longer able to provide the service you're paying them for.
A fair system to pay people is hard to come up with, but certainly not that difficult to make progress towards.
I won't get into what I believe a fair system would be, that's not what this blog is about. But players and many fans should exile words like middle ground and concessions from their vocabulary regarding this process.
The reason the proposal went nowhere yesterday is this: The players offer to patch up the broken system (contracting rights) while trying to to bribe the owners with more money to maintain what's keeping the system broken. The NHL doesn't give a hoot about this patchwork nor the percentage so much (you can probably get them to agree to 52/48 or 53/47) but they want to stop the ability to sign players for more than 7 years. This is a pandemic in the sport, because these players become un-trade-able and the GM loses power over the competitiveness of his team because of the vast amounts of guesswork that is creeping into doling out these longterm contracts (will he remain good or will he Gomez out?).
I said this six months ago, and I still maintain it today because nothing has changed: the deal to be made is with 7 year limitations (and that's on players making more than 5M, with 5 year limitations on people making less), the UFA going up one year only, entry level deals will not change (heck, the PA might even push them to two years). You might even offer leverage by setting contract minimum to two years for players over the age of 23. ^^^ this here? This is what the NHL TRULY wants to negotiate. The other numbers (make whole) is all the "middle ground" stuff that'll come after. Once they agree to the system, the numbers will work themselves out over the course of less than a week.