Shannon on CBA talks: Season on the brink

December 31, 2012, 4:44 AM

It’s hard to fathom why we don’t have NHL games to watch right now.

It’s even harder to fathom why the two sides aren’t grinding out the details of this new CBA on a daily basis. It’s certainly plausible that both sides have used delay tactics as a negotiating ploy when you consider the legal proceedings that could take place early in the New Year if we don’t have any hockey played by January 19th.

On Monday, for the first time in almost four weeks, the NHL and its players will sit in the same room (and it will be the first time since Nov. 29 that Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman will face each other in negotiations). The talks will most likely contain a counter-offer from the union to the league’s almost-300 page offer from last Thursday.

As a refresher, over the past few months the NHL has concentrated on the core economic issues that really came into focus on Sept. 15 when the lockout began. The thought was that if those issues were solved a new CBA would follow.

What has transpired since mid-September is that nothing has been solved and, therefore, nothing has followed. And, in many ways, the league has negotiated against itself with movement from its original hard-line offer.

Case in point:

*An entry level system was proposed at two years. It has now been reverted to three years.

*Free Agency was proposed at age 28. It has now reverted to age 27.

*Arbitration was to be abolished. It has now been proposed to the level of the previous CBA.

*Five-year term limits on contracts have now been proposed at 6 years.

*Five per cent variance on year-to-year salary is now proposed at 10 per cent.

*A $211-million transition package for contracted players has now reached the $300-million mark.

But alas, there’s more to this deal than those issues.

Where will the salary cap be for the next full season? Will it be at $60 million, as the NHL wants, or at $67.5 million like the NHLPA wants?

Will there be a cap on Escrow, as the NHLPA wants?

Will the buyout of a single contract be applied to the players’ side of hockey related revenue, as the NHL wants?

There’s always something, isn’t there. And you really have to ask, will there always be something? One can only hope there’s pressure on both sides to get this deal done.

I have my doubts.

I truly expect very little to happen in the New Year’s Eve negotiations. If the Players’ Association puts forward major differences from what the NHL proposed on Thursday night, we will see this league go down a path that no one could ever have foreseen.

If the players work within the framework of the 288 pages that the NHL proposed, we have a chance to salvage a season, playoffs and a Stanley Cup Champion. And while it appears some of the pension, health and safety issues between the two sides are easily bridged, we will hear that “transition” and “compliance” issues are too far apart at this time.

Read that to mean, how can the players receive as much of the dollars they’ve been contracted to receive before the partners share revenues 50-50?

And, just as important, how will the 40 per cent of players, who are actual free agents right now, get as much as the new system will allow.

As an aside, we have read and heard about teams that are already at or above the $60-million cap the league has proposed. I have little sympathy for those teams because over the past year or so the NHL has been hinting that a new system would penalize teams that were overly aggressive in signing players to new long term deals, particularly in the summer of 2012.

They were warned. They didn’t recognize the consequences. They should pay.

Season on the Brink was a book written by John Feinstein about Bobby Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers basketball team of the mid-1980s. It could also describe what the NHL is going through right now. And you have to wonder, if the season is on the brink, is the game as a whole on the brink as well?

Maybe as 2012 comes to an end we will know more.

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