Is the NHL Trying to Make the NHLPA the Bad Guys?

The message-crafting agency of GOP strategist Frank Luntz (pictured) helped the NHL figure out and shape how some fans feel via focus groups. Will the league use Luntz’s style of framing the lockout negotiations? Photo by PBrady on Wikimedia Commons.

So it has come to this–after months of back-and-forth without much in the way of actual offers on the table, the NHL has made an offer to the NHLPA in hopes of ending the third lockout since 1994, which has already wiped out the players’ first monthly paycheck.

It’s an offer with some good points and some less-than-ideal points. Equalizing the shares of hockey-related revenue to 50-50 is something I personally advocated for–with the knowledge that what I feel won’t really affect anything at the bargaining table–literally since the discussions began.

Actually, I think that the existing 57-43 split is actually closer to how things should be because the players, the faces of the game and the guys whose bodies literally will not allow them to do this job forever, should get more for what they do than the owners, who can keep doing their jobs for much longer and with much less risk of bodily injury. But, I suppose we need to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good–if a 50-50 split is what both sides really want, let them take it. Plus, teams will be allowed to go over the salary cap this season as a result of clearing the dust from transitioning to a new CBA and players will be reimbursed for missed paychecks over time.

But there are some parts that the NHLPA may take exception to at first glance, like the fact that players in the AHL will have their salaries count against the salary cap, the proposed terms of unrestricted free agency–to begin after eight years of play or when the player turns 28–as well as limits on contract terms and pay amounts after a summer where teams made it rain heavily upon players all over the place.

The PA may want to meet and bargain and try to get a fairer deal instead of taking this one sight unseen. Already the PA has had conference calls with players, even those who are in Europe right now, to discuss their next move. There is time built in to work out the finer points of this deal and get things started by the NHL’s 82-game goal of puck drop Nov. 2 after a week of training camp.

However, if bargaining gets difficult in any way whatsoever, look for the league to frame it as a failure solely on the part of the players’ union. Considering the fact that the league recently hired the strategy firm of Frank Luntz, noted Republican strategist and winner of the 2010 PolitiFact Lie of the Year award, to do a focus group about fans’ feelings and came away having more of them leaning to the owners’ side, the league has shown it will try anything to control the framing and narrative of this issue. Luntz’s worldview is one that is not very positive in terms of feelings about labor unions, after all.

The problem is that in this age of social media more voices than ever before are being able to have their say, so the league won’t be able to get away with it that easily. Plus, the news of the Luntz focus group broke yesterday and went viral all over the Internet pretty much immediately. Is that the reason why the league brought out this offer after weeks of inactivity? It might not be the only reason, but I feel like it was definitely a contributing factor.

I of course fervently hope for a full season, even if it does begin at the start of November and the playoffs go on a little longer into June. It would be much better than the abbreviated 1994-95 season or the completely obliterated 2004-05 season. But at the same time, the players deserve a fair deal for the job they do and many fans will not be fooled by an NHL attempt to completely shape the story of negotiations.


More coverage of the NHL’s offer can be found here, here, here and here.