After another night where the parties in the CBA talks burned the midnight oil, they will continue again on Thursday as the NHL and NHLPA continue to work harder than ever to get a deal done.
And yes, we can call the two sides the NHL and NHLPA again. That's because, as reported by John Shannon, the NHLPA wanted union executive director Donald Fehr to get back in on the negotiations. That in turn will bring Gary Bettman back in for the league, as Bill Daly confirmed to Helene St. James.
With that settled, we say to the players and the owners; job well done. No, they didn't reach a deal but dialogue got steamrolling when the dynamics of the people in the room changed, which I must admit is a lot more than I expected.
However it seems like the players have taken it as far as they can/want to go without Fehr in the room. Reports out of the meetings in the last two days were mostly positive -- in relative terms to the rest of the negotiations they were more positive than Richard Simmons after New Year's resolutions -- because the sides were going back and forth. The last volley was made by the owners and on Thursday afternoon the players are expected to make their response.
To what, exactly, are they responding? It's been pretty tight-lipped from these meetings but a few details did leak. Shannon once again was on the beat, so here's where we're at.
League proposed new CBA as a 10 Year Deal.— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) December 6, 2012
This one certainly sounds great. We're all sick and tired of going through this lockout stuff every five to seven years, so getting a longer deal would be great for the fans.
The problem is the players don't seem to be in love with the idea. If the deal doesn't suit them well enough then they are locked in for a full decade. It has been reported that at least there was an eighth year opt-out clause in the offer.
This is one fight that doesn't seem worth it for the players. Even if they get "stuck" with a 50/50 deal, eventually the revenue will start to rise again and by the end of the time they should have significantly higher salaries.
Leagued proposed increasing "make whole" provision to 300 Million Dollars.— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) December 6, 2012
This is a pretty big development. You heard a lot in the past few weeks about the difference between the two sides being just $182 million. Where did that number come from? It was the difference between the $211 million in Make Whole the owners were offering and the $393 million the players were asking. So the owners decided to split the difference -- or close enough.
It becomes a question from here how much the players want to fight for this issue and try to get more from the owners. But considering they hadn't budged on the $211 million figure for a long time and many thought the owners were actually going to take the Make Whole offer away, this is likely as good as it will get. Especially considering the first year of the Make Whole will be reduced with player salaries being smaller thanks to the lockout, it seems like they're just about there.
League proposed that UFA and Arbitration rules stayed same as last CBA...27 and 4 Years Pro.— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) December 6, 2012
This seems like a bit of good news here as the owners are willing to return to the status quo on the age requirements in contracts. The players have been fighting to maintain their rights -- not for more rights but to maintain their rights -- in these negotiations and this would certainly qualify.
The fact that the owners relented here is good and this issue is probably on the back burner -- unless it's contingent on other parts being agreed to, that is.
League would not budge on Contract Term or Variance... 5 Years... 5%.— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) December 6, 2012
There would be an exception for signing your own Free Agent...7 Year Contracts.— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) December 6, 2012
Here we have a big divide that remains. The owners remain adamant about the contract limit in terms of years on deals and are trying to get rid of back-diving deals with the 5 percent variance. The players obviously don't want to bite, a lot of them have enjoyed some lengthy deals of late.
But not too many. This five-year limit would really only matter to about 5 percent of players. That's not an awful lot now, is it?
Trying to throw the players at least a little carrot they did allow for players who re-sign to get an additional two years. This achieves a couple of things. First, it allows for longer deals obviously, but secondly, it gives extra incentive for players to stay with their teams with that extra two years of security.
We've seen these rules be enacted in the NBA and frankly it hasn't been a big deal. It might have been a little overbearing, but think how fun it was in the NBA a few summers ago when there were so many high-profile free agents like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all at the same time?
While all of these issues might not seem like they're that far off from getting done, closing the last few gaps is the hardest part of all. That's why there remains plenty of tension in the room despite that it seems like the players/owners-only setup worked fairly well. As Bill Daly put it on Wednesday night-Thursday morning: "We had good, candid dialogue. There continue to be critical open issues between the two parties."
To the point on that candid dialogue and the tension that remains, check this out from Michael Grange of Sportsnet:
At one point the owners threatened to take the offer off the table, indicating they were frustrated with the lack of flexibility on the players side, who have been waiting for the owners to make the kind of move they did last night.
According to sources close to the negotiation it was Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller who lost his temper briefly, which seemed to encourage further dialogue, although at another point Boston Bruins hard line owner Jeremy Jacobs threatened to leave the negotiation. At that point a more moderate group of owners including the Pittsburgh Penguins' Ron Burkle and the Tampa Bay Lightning's Jeff Vinik agreed to keep the negotiation going.
So as you can clearly see, things might be closer than they were before but this is a very delicate situation.
The players and the owners took this about as far as they could and now Bettman and Fehr will come back into the picture. The optimistic approach to that bit of news is that they can now come in and close the deal. The pessimistic approach is a lot easier to take and I'll let you fill in that blank.