We hear it a lot - the NHL owners and players are partners. We know the players get a share of revenue. The better the league does the more the players get paid. That linkage is the primary reason the relationship is often characterized as a partnership.
But is it a partnership? Short answer is of course no.
Teams are the employers, while players are the employees. The sides do get together every few years to hammer out a new CBA, which sets out the terms and conditions that govern employment. However, these are the terms and conditions that govern the employer/employee relationship and not some other type of legal relationship.
Indeed, the parties are not partners in the legal sense. If they were, the players would not only share in gains but also in losses. If a fan got hurt at a game, and a team had to pay out a legal settlement, the players don't feel that financial hit. Shane Doan isn't asked to help pay down the losses of the Coyotes or pay the NHL's legal bills.
The owners, teams and league bare much of the risk associated with owning and operating teams complete with the seemingly endless stream of potential liability.
It is, then, more accurate to describe the relationship as follows: the players partner in revenue but are not partners.
It is true that the big business of sports is unique in that the athletes are the assets that are in large part responsible for the revenue generated by a league. For that reason, it is completely reasonable for players to ask for more than the limited compensation provided in the traditional employer/employee relationship. However, this request remains framed within the employer/employee relationship. It is not a partnership.
NHL Players do get that extra-ordinary compensation, with the average NHL salary climbing from $1.4 million in 2005 to $2.4 in 2011.
Fully appreciating the nature of the legal relationship - and all that comes with it - is perhaps a step in the right direction in getting a deal done.