TORONTO - The NHL Players' Association is dreaming big.
Faced with an initial proposal in collective bargaining that held absolutely no appeal, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr is proceeding as though it never happened. Rather than quibbling over the fine points of the NHL's offer, the union has chosen to reimagine the league's economic system in a proposal it will deliver on Tuesday.
"What we expect to do tomorrow is to put forth an alternative view as to what we should do next," Fehr said Monday. "That's the best way I can put it."
It's a bold move with a Sept. 15 deadline looming for a lockout.
The initial offer from the NHL called for a lowering of the players' share in revenue and introduced new contract restrictions, among other things. There wasn't one aspect of it that appealed to the union, with one source saying the NHLPA felt it was designed to "anger and provoke" rather than kickstart meaningful discussions.
Despite that, the union thoroughly examined it over the last month before deciding there was no true counter-proposal to be made. Fehr will instead offer up a "different kind of an approach"—one that no doubt includes expanded revenue sharing and more flexibility than is currently allowed under the league's rigid salary cap system.
"It's how the players see the world," said Fehr.
But what about the owners?
Judging by the initial proposal, the biggest change they're after is reducing the amount of money spent on players. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged as much last week but has otherwise kept his cards pretty close to the vest.
Negotiations have been underway for seven weeks, but he still isn't sure exactly what the union has in mind.
"I'm interested, very interested," Bettman said of the forthcoming proposal. "We'll have to wait and see. I'm not going to try and speculate as to what they're going to present tomorrow. I have no idea."
Time is beginning to run short with the current deal set to expire on Sept. 15. Bettman added even more urgency to the talks when he revealed last week that the players will be locked out if that date passes without a new agreement.
It was a comment that resonated strongly with the players—many of whom took to Twitter to voice their displeasure with it. Fehr took notice as well.
"The tone (of negotiations), in a sense, I suppose is a little different given that backdrop and the starkness from which it was delivered," he said.
The players will be looking to make a splash with their proposal on Tuesday. As many as 25 union members are expected to be in attendance for the session—including superstar Alex Ovechkin—and key details are slated to be released publicly.
During Fehr's time with baseball's players' union, he fought vehemently against a salary cap and it's believed he's strongly in favour of lessening the impact of the one the NHL instituted after losing the entire 2004-05 season to a lockout.
One way to do that is to introduce a luxury tax for teams that spend above a specific threshold.
It's unclear if the NHLPA might be able to interest owners in that kind of system. Asked specifically about how he felt about a luxury tax on Monday, Bettman declined comment by saying he won't negotiate publicly.
Negotiations are about to pick up pace. Despite the fact the sides have been talking throughout the summer, they finally seem ready to get down to work.
"All things in this world at this stage of this negotiation are possible," said Fehr.