Common ground to be included in offer
Ask yourself this question: Why did the NHL players' union, specifically Trevor Linden, seem at the very least neutral following a meeting with the league last Thursday, then appear utterly outraged 24 hours later with key members of the executive committee angrily declaring the season to be over?
Sounds a little strategic, wouldn't you say?
Given that rhetoric and bombast have dominated this entire process but never fail to have people believing it reflects the true state of negotiations, one shouldn't be surprised that the players delivered a staged gloom-and-doom message last Friday.
They then had all their carefully groomed media personnel echo that message over the past three days in the most strident terms possible.
But the fact is the players knew then and know today that they will be getting a new offer from the owners in the next 48 hours, and that this offer will likely reflect some of the common ground forged in the two-day session last week in Chicago and Toronto.
On Friday, the players were simply endeavouring to solicit the league's best offer with another round of chest-thumping.
They know they've lost. They just need an honourable way to save face.
With this, for all intents and purposes, the last possible week to do a deal, it is now incumbent upon the league to create that face-saving opportunity.
It's possible that won't happen, but more likely that it will.
Indeed, there are all kinds of unique concepts kicking around right now, some of which were tossed around last week in the meetings involving Linden, Calgary owner Harley Hotchkiss and various league and union officials.
You should expect that the league will throw out some notions in its new proposal that simply haven't been heard by the public before.
For example, they might offer the players something along the lines of a unilateral re-opener clause if, in three or four years, they don't like the way a new deal has worked out.
Expect to hear a profit-sharing proposal, with the players getting a disproportionate share over a certain figure, and even an intriguing combination salary cap/luxury tax scheme that would extend the range of possible salaries but include a tax in the middle.
For example, the range for salary cap purposes could be something like a minimum of $33 million to a maximum of $50 million per team.
But those teams interested in spending more than, say, $40 million, would have to pay a tax that would then create a pool for revenue sharing.
Or they might have to forfeit draft picks.
So overall spending is limited, but there would still be room for the wealthy Leafs, Flyers and Rangers to spend more than $40 million if they were willing to pay a surcharge in money or draft picks.
Interesting, huh? The owners can say they got a cap, the players could say they fought and achieved a tax/revenue sharing system.
More to the point, there would be an awful lot of players who would look at such a proposal and suggest to their union leadership that it would be time to go back to work.
And that's the dynamic the league has to create over the next 48 hours if it really has an interest in having a competition for the 2005 Stanley Cup.
Indeed, it would be the height of stupidity for the league, if it wants to save a portion of the season, to throw the players not just a bone, but a few bones.
The players have been saying publicly for months that they suspect the league has already written off the season.
Well, if the league comes up with an offer today or tomorrow that simply mirrors their December offer, we'll know the players were right.
If they come up with something decidedly more complex and appealing, all may not yet be lost.