If Gary Bettman really is The Smartest Man in the Room, or more accurately, “The Smartest Man in Every Room” as has been implied, then I can’t help but feel that the owners negotiating plans are right on schedule.

  • “Okay, suuuper, super lowball early, piss some people off, create doubt that another NHL season happens, like, ever again. Check.”
  • “Suffer public relations abuse, player pity, leave unreasonably large gap, express doubt. Check.”
  • “Stop talking. Public panic. Check.”
  • “Cancel some games. Have the players miss a paycheck. Check and check.”
  • “When all hope is lost, propose a reasonable offer just under where we’re willing to go, get players counter-offer, get something done in time to avoid missing games. IN PROGRESS.”

Whether that’s the case or not, the owners latest offer isn’t unreasonable, and should be a good jumping off point for reaching an honest-to-god resolution in the coming weeks.

I follow a lot of smart people on Twitter (read: pessimists) who have expressed their “Call me when a deal is done” feelings, a common sentiment from those burned too many times before. I’ve also read those same people express their feelings that this offer is a PR move by the owners, only floated out there so that when the players turn it down (as they will), they look like the good guys.

As in, they think the owners just want to be able to say they’re trying, you guys. They’re putting themselves out there, they’re not the ones taking your hockey away, it’s the players who won’t agree to a 50/50 split.

My contention to that stance is, let’s say the owners genuinely wanted to get a deal done (and by all common logic they should – we’ve expressed the reasons why before, but in sum, the NHL is doing just fine). What they would do is sit down, and come up with a proposal and present it to the players, one that includes giving in on a number of issues, like say…

* 50/50 split of hockey related revenues. (They’d asked for more of the pie previously.)

* Three year entry-level deals remain. (They had wanted to push them to five years in previous offers.)

[Correction: According to Pierre Lebrun, entry level deals in the new proposal are two years long. Why? Do the math. Two year entry level deal, plus a max five year next contract leaves you one year shy of the owners proposed "eight years of service" to become a free agent. Those savvy bastards want the chance to sign another RFA deal before getting killed!]

* Salary arbitration remains. (They wanted it gone in previous offers.)

* They’ve offered to go up to $200M in revenue sharing from $100M. (That’s the highest they’ve offered to go so far.)

There’s a few other minor concessions, some of which, like the age of free agency, are proposed to be more than they currently are, but are been backed off from what they initially asked for (now that’s some good negotiating there. 28 years old or eight years of service suddenly looks good after the owners initial “offensive” proposal).

That the PR pendulum swings their way in this is just a bonus. When Elliotte Friedman wrote his terrific column on Sunday that explained that Bud Selig (MLB) had the foresight to see the looming disaster and worked to get something done, it’s very possible Bettman and crew are in the same boat.

So while it feels like every thing is smack-dab on track for the NHL’s negotiating plan, it also seems like they’re sincerely trying to get this worked out, and trying to keep a full season. Lord knows the owners would like to get all 41 home dates in if possible.

I feel that the owners offer was sincere, and after a day of kicking it around in my head and reading other people’s thoughts, I believe a deal will get done that allows for the full season. If it doesn’t happen soon, it likely won’t this year. But today, I’m feeling better than I have all summer about the NHL’s odds.