Tennis is my analogy for this lockout and negotiation today. The side in the server's court has changed a few times, and points have been gained here and there. For the most part the teams have been playing a tight defensive set with long, concerted fights for the upper hand and advantage in public opinion.
I thought there were some good strokes in the past (players' proposal), but we have not seen anything close to the shot delivered by the NHL's owners yesterday. If the game was stuck at deuce in discussion of irrelevant detail, this was the baseline rocket that set up a break point.
The smartly delivered proposal seemed to optimise the element of surprise, the essence of timing and the emotions of public opinion. The fans not yet having had the chance to mourn the loss of games properly and settle into a begrudged acceptance of the situation may see the owners offer as one made for them -- as it preserves the precious whole of the season.
It's smart because everyone always knew that 50/50 was the target and that the players would be reluctant to accept that. Here now is the 50/50 presented as a compromise position from the owners and strapped to a season-saving proposal. The owners as heroes for fans (as tenuous as that will always be) must be trending at a new high.
Beyond the headline moments of the proposal, there are some interesting tidbits rolled in, tidbits that might cause sticking points in their own right, but which may never capture the public interest. Things like changes to entry-level contracts, second contracts, salary cap application, etc.
The ball is back in the court of the players and they must serve now to even stay in the game of public opinion. An offer that they should reject based on the principles they claim to stand by will be hard to reject -- the rejection being attached to the guaranteed loss of 82 games, and the seeming compromise from across the table.
The owners masterstroke here is to put the loss of games at least partially on the players scorecard. Oh yes, it was there before, but Fehr did well in tossing around the red herring that the owners could have negotiated during play. The public were on the side of that argument. Now, the chance to preserve the whole season, rests on a decision point. And it rests with the players.
The owners probably got here a bit dishonestly, but like a Republican who can blend into the middle after a nomination from the ultra right base is obtained, it doesn't matter anymore. That this proposal should have been delivered 4 months ago, that it shouldn't be attached to 82 strings, that it is devious in including some unpopular changes in fine print matter no longer. The headlines will be "10 Days to Get a Deal Done", "Players Scuttle Season", "Owners Save 82 Games With Last Minute Proposal" and the like. It's high drama time and the stopwatch has been pressed.
Does the NHLPA have an ace to serve? Can they keep this ball away from the NHL's dangerous forehand play?