One of the seemingly smaller issues in the NHL lockout is the start date of free agency.
For years, the opening day of free agency has been July 1, a national holiday in Canada. It's also just a few days away from Independence Day in the United States.
The significance of those two dates is that it limits the amount of attention signing a top-of-the-class free agents may get from the media and the amount of publicity the sport may get for these big events.
This is not the kind of issue that is seemingly all that important for a league that has locked out its players for four months.
However, it is an issue where the league has shown some willingness to move. It originally proposed moving the start of free agency to July 10 or Aug. 1, an idea that players were not willing to go along with because it would limit the number of days that a free agent is available (source: ESPN.com).
The NHL has shown a willingness to move on this proposal and change the start of free agency to some time in June, perhaps as early as 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is awarded or June 15, whichever date is later (source: TheStar.com).
Moving the start of free agency ahead makes sense because it gives teams a jump on planning for the next year. Instead of letting grass grow for two weeks or more after the end of the previous season, teams would get to make moves to improve their teams right away.
There's really no reason to wait. The scouting process is ongoing and teams have strong evaluations of prospective free agents at all times. It is not as if some magical information appears on July 1 that makes a report more valuable.
Allowing the free-agency signing period to start earlier means teams have less time to second-guess evaluations. In some cases, a general manager may have a competent evaluation and that allows him to come to a conclusion about a player.
Making him wait to sign the player only leads to the anxiety that goes with the decision. The "should I or shouldn't I?" internal debate grows louder and more significant with each passing day. The general manager may want to sign the player on June 15, but indecision sets in by July 1 and no move is made.
Additionally, moving free agency to June is at least a small move the league has made that the players can appreciate.
Players can see the league moved off its original starting point and went in the players' desired direction.
That is some evidence of cooperation.
It's small and cynics can see it originally proposed the change just so it could give it back as a negotiating ploy, but taken by itself it is something for the players to grasp.
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