NHL Lockout: Are the 2 Sides Actually Starting to Negotiate?

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NHL Lockout: Are the 2 Sides Actually Starting to Negotiate?
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Hopes were high that progress would be made toward a new NHL collective bargaining agreement on Wednesday when the NHLPA made what union boss Donald Fehr referred to as “substantial moves” toward the wants and desires of the NHL ownership group.  In the end, those hopes appeared dashed when the NHL said thanks, but no thanks to the offer. 

On the surface, it’s easy to see what happened on Wednesday as all doom and gloom, but to think that the NHL was going to sign off on the NHLPA’s proposal the same day it was presented is foolhardy.  That’s not part of the process.  What is part of the process is give and take.

Two key things happened in Wednesday’s negotiations.  The NHLPA moved from a straight guarantee of hockey-related revenue to an offer based on a percentage of HRR.  From the NHL side of the table, we saw them agree to one small thing, moving on their offer on entry-level contracts from two years to three.

Some fans will roll their eyes that the change on the entry-level contracts is substantial, and they wouldn’t be wrong to do so.  As negotiations go, it’s very little and doesn’t give the players anything that they didn’t have in the previous CBA, but it is something.  The small capitulation shows that there is movement to be made on the NHL side of the table.  It is progress, no matter how infinitesimal it may appear.

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So, where do we stand and what has to give?  The key for the players is the make whole proposal, which the owners have offered, based on revenue projections and future earnings of $211 million.  On the players' side of the equation, they want that number to be $393 million.

The other big issues are contractual, mainly arbitration and free agency. 

The ball is now in the owners' court, and it will be interesting to see what they do with it.  I could see the owners giving a bit on arbitration and free agency, with the thinking that a reduced salary cap, limited contract terms and non-front-loaded contracts will drive down free-agency salary, but on the make whole thing, there’s still a big gap there and a huge amount of money no matter how you look at it.

Friday will be an interesting day.  Will the ownership group come back with a counteroffer?  Will they cancel more games, including the All-Star game?  Will they draw a line in the sand and say that they have presented their last, best offer?  Really, it’s all up in the air, and even if nothing happens on Friday but the cancellation of some games, that still doesn’t mean that the light is out for hockey during the 2012-13 season. 

There’s still time to make a deal here.  Plenty of time, actually.  Remember, the 1994-95 season didn’t start until January 20.  Would a half-season schedule be ideal?  Absolutely not, but it would be better than nothing.

Progress was made on Wednesday.  Hopefully more will come, even if it is in baby steps.

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