In the overlong, ugly fiasco that is the 2012 NHL lockout, Thursday, Oct. 25 may prove to be the difference between a full 82-game season and a cold, hockey-less winter for despondent fans.
Though the league has already canceled games through Nov. 1, commissioner Gary Bettman has said those games can be made up if an agreement is reached by Thursday.
Bettman said the postponed games could still be rescheduled, with a full season starting on November 2, if the players' union accepted the NHL proposal.
But he warned that time was running out and if a deal was not reached by October 25, there was no hope of playing a full season.
With such little time remaining before that deadline and the sides so far apart, there will have to be some major concessions for a deal to get done.
Here is a look at a few major places where the sides must agree for Thursday to be a source of joy instead of despair for hockey fans.
A 50/50 Split on Hockey-Related Income Must be Reached
Like lockouts in the NBA and NFL last year, this is the biggest sticking point in negotiations and an area where the NHLPA might as well just concede.
If the owners won on basketball-related revenue and football-related revenue in the NBA and NFL, Bettman is not going to take a loss in this category.
It would be best for the NHLPA to move on and use that concession as a way to win in other portions of the negotiations.
No Contract Rollbacks
One of the biggest areas where the owners can allow players to feel like they "won" (without them actually winning) is by moving away from contract rollbacks.
In earlier proposals, the league had asked the players to give as much as 24 percent on existing deals, according to Yahoo! Sports' Greg Wyshynski.
Obviously that stance changed in the most recent proposal, but not as much as you may think. According to Elliotte Friedman, the proposal still likely contains rollbacks for the 2012-13 season, but that the lost income could be paid back at a later date.
I'd expect the key thing for players to discuss is what sounds like an NHL offer to "return" whatever is lost on their salaries this season.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) October 16, 2012
My guess: league has said if you have a long-term contract and you lose xx% this year, we will find a way to "return" it over term.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) October 16, 2012
Well, for the NHL to get its desired 50-50 split in revenue, the league will likely have to move off any rollback talks.
The players need to feel like they are getting a victory in some key points of negotiations instead of being railroaded. By avoiding rollbacks, the owners are simply honoring already-signed contracts while giving players the "attaboy" they desire.
How the two sides work that out around the new salary structure is up to them. But this is one of the two biggest issues remaining, so the players have to win one for a deal to get done.
Both Sides Have to Want an Agreement
It's easy to sit here as an armchair quarterback and give rational opinions on what should happen in a multi-billion dollar business.
Will the NHL and NHLPA come to an agreement by Thursday?
However, until the two sides actually feel the internal pressure to get the deal done, it's likely that we'll continue seeing this inevitable spinning of the wheel.
We've seen how quickly these negotiations can get done when there is real money on the line and pressure from the outside. There is a reason why the NFL never missed a minute of preseason action and the NBA miraculously started its 2011-12 season on Christmas.
If a deal is not struck by Thursday, we'll get a new be-all-end-all date for a slightly shortened schedule (e.g. NBA's 2011-12 season) and the two sides will go back into the boardroom.
On the other hand, if the owners and NHLPA actually have a vested interest in giving fans a full season, we'll get a deal by Oct. 25.