This is exactly what Gary Bettman and the Board of Governors (or at least the three or four of them who are actually running the show) were hoping for when they presented a superficially reasonable but still unsavory CBA proposal to the players' association on Tuesday. The tide of public opinion is quickly turning against the NHLPA as the union presented the league with three counter-proposals today that were all swiftly rejected.
The argument, both from Bettman (who says he's "very discouraged" and claims the sides are "nowhere close") as well as some fans and members of the media, is that a 50/50 split of hockey-related revenue--which in itself is nebulously defined as the owners continue their attempts to shift the goalposts in that area--represents a "fair" deal. "Fair" is an extremely subjective term, particularly when you consider the fact that when the free market was determining player salaries prior to the last lockout, they were earning 74% of the take.
But even putting that aside, I'd contend "fair" would be the owners honoring in full the contracts they've already signed players to. It seems patently unfair for the Craig Leipolds of the league to throw around cash like a drunken sailor on July 1st only to hold the season hostage months later while refusing to foot the bill like a four-year-old. That exact provision is what was reportedly the basis of the third proposal the PA presented today--compensate us for the contracts you've already inked and we'll accept the 50/50 split in revenue the NHL proposed on Tuesday.
I certainly don't mean to suggest it's quite as simple as the players' association's own spin is making it sound; even under the prior CBA, dollar amounts of contracts weren't quite set in stone thanks to escrow payments. But when the players are offering a substantial monetary giveback, the least the NHL can do is make good on the cash they've already promised them. That's apparently unacceptable to the league who are guilty of either presenting Tuesday's proposal purely as a PR stunt with no intention of actually offering the players' association a 50% stake in earnings or negotiating contracts over the past two offseasons in horrendously bad faith.
Of course what really matters isn't a meaningless PR war or to which side of the imaginary line we should pledge our allegiance. What matters is getting hockey back and today's proceedings certainly cast a pall over the prospects of that. But just as it didn't make sense to be overtly enthusiastic about the NHL's proposal on Tuesday, it's probably unwise to view this most recent development as apocalyptic. The chance of a full 82-game schedule being played is admittedly slim but that was the case even when Bettman proclaimed it a distinct possibility two days ago. The two sides are much closer than they've ever been and, as Broad Street Hockey's Eric T. pointed out in these two tweets, they would be stupid to flush an entire season as the amount of profit that would lose them wouldn't be compensated even by 6-year gains under a new CBA.