The NHL lockout has been hard on fans, with more ups and downs (especially downs) than one could count. One day, it seems like an 82-game schedule will be saved, and the next there's no hope at all.
Despite this ride of emotions, due to the recent developments, there is hope for a partial season. There's still a long process to be done, and a deal may not be reached this week, or even the next, but I do believe there's reason to dust of the jersey's and get ready for the 2012-13 season to begin.
They've Lost Enough Already
The whole idea of a lockout seems so pointless; both sides are essentially choosing to lose money in order to gain leverage. And that is what this was: a choice. There was no real attempt by either side to resolve this before money was lost.
But as stupid as it is, both sides held out to see if the other would blink. They can only do this for so long, though. It's now become apparent that neither side will blink, and they need to meet in the middle.
Each side has lost hundreds of millions of dollars. It's time to stop trying to win the lockout and start negotiating.
They're Running Out of Bargaining Chips
The NHL has played a series of bargaining chips throughout this process, with the most recent being the last chance at an 82-game season and the Winter Classic. The problem is that those chips aren't working. The players have options that are keeping them strong. When Scott Gomez finds work is when you know the owners don't have as much leverage as they thought.
The next bargaining chip to play is the entire season, and neither side wants that. Both sides will put in an honest effort before that chip is played.
A Deal is in Arm's Reach
We know what the end result looks like. Both the owners and players have agreed on a 50/50 revenue split, it's just a matter of how to get there. The owners want an immediate reduction, and the players want a gradual reduction to ensure all contracts are paid in full.
Of course, there are other issues of the CBA to be resolved, but how to ensure players' contracts are made whole is the sticking point. It would be a waste to lose a season over how to get to an agreed point.
They're Fighting Over Less by the Day
As mentioned, the sticking point is how to make contracts whole. Now, that won't be possible for the 2012-13 season, considering the season itself will not be made whole, but what about next year?
The owners have been operating under the assumption that fans will return despite the work stoppage. For the most part, they're right. Most fans will return, but not all. Will the new Phoenix Coyotes fans who got caught up in the intensity of the playoff run return?
The point is, the players are content with a 50/50 revenue split as long as their share doesn't go below the $1.833 billion they earned last season. The owners would simply get a larger share of the growth until that 50/50 is realized. But what if there is no growth? What if the lockout loses so many fans and support that $1.833 million is more than 57 percent when play resumes? With each day that passes, that becomes more likely; and as that becomes more likely, the owners are less willing to agree to that fixed amount.
Steve Fehr and Bill Daly Upbeat After Saturday's Meeting
Steve Fehr and Bill Daly met Saturday afternoon to discuss how to proceed with negotiations. When the marathon talks commenced early Sunday, both Fehr and Daly were upbeat and optimistic. That can only mean they did, in fact, figure out how to proceed, and the developments since only support that.
Length and Frequency of Meetings
The NHL and NHLPA have now met three consecutive days (four of the past six including Fehr/Daly) and have plans to resume tomorrow.
Until now, every attempt at negotiating has gone awry quickly, leading to a Gary Bettman comment about "speaking different languages" and a significant cool-off period.
The fact that the recent meetings have gone so long and both sides actually have a desire to continue the next day means they're either close to a deal or the talks are at least rational—both of which are improvements from earlier negotiations.
Pressure From Sponsors
The NHL has seen incredible growth since the last lockout, and could not have done so without the great brands behind them. Yesterday, the CEO of Molson Coors (an NHL sponsor) Peter Swinburn said that the company has seen a decrease in sales as a result of the lockout. He went on to say "There will be some redress for us as a result of this. I can't quantify that and I don't know because I don't know the scale of how long the lockout is going to last."
Molson Coors, who has a $375 million sponsorship agreement with the NHL, is one of many sponsors who could seek compensation for the lockout effects. The NHL has lost enough money without adding lawsuits and burnt bridges into the mix.
The Media is Being Left in the Dark
Lastly, and in my opinion most significantly, is the way the NHL and NHLPA are dealing with the media. Up until now, both sides have used the media as a tool rather than to give simple updates. We've seen a pathetic display of shots taken from both sides through the media. The result of each negative comment has been a cooling off period and a lesser desire to compromise. This week, however, the media has been left in the dark. There are no more cheap shots, no spun stories to gain publicity, no published proposals, no meeting summaries—nothing.
As fans, we'd all love to know exactly what's happening. But both sides have proven to us that they're too juvenile to simply inform, so this is the next best thing. They've agreed to set aside the use of media to focus on negotiations. It's the blacked-out media, among all the other positive signs that tells us hockey is on its way. And if the two sides fail to capitalize on this momentum and reach a deal, then they deserve the losses and consequences to come.