Here we are. Another weekend of no NHL. Again.
And it feels like forever!
Yet, it hasn’t really been that long for the real negotiations. Don’t look back to June, July or August, when the NHLPA was bobbing and weaving like a prize fighter or the NHL was embarrassing itself with a 43 per cent offer.
You can’t even look to Sept. 15, the day the collective bargaining agreement of 2005 actually expired. The negotiations couldn’t really be recognized through the haze of rhetoric and posturing.
In fact, you only have to go back 30 days, to mid-October. Gary Bettman and Bill Daly arrived on the NHLPA’s doorstep one Friday with the belief that the union had an offer to make, only to find out once again that Donald Fehr wasn’t prepared to make an offer just yet. Fast forward five days, the NHL returned to Toronto with a new offer that was quickly rebuked and replaced with three concepts including the fame "50-50 make whole" concept that wasn’t even on paper. That was Oct. 18.
Since then, we have had a whole lot of … nothing.
Oh, sure there were secret meetings in Chicago between Bill Daly and Steve Fehr. That was followed by four days of meetings at an undisclosed location in New York City that quickly became disclosed. Maybe there was movement on revenue sharing, and certainly the NHL offered $211 million over the first three years of the agreement to make contracted players "whole," but by week’s end nerves were frayed, frustration was growing and frankly little was being accomplished.
And then there were the events of this past week:
- Tuesday’s conversation between Fehr and Bettman, when the two-week moratorium was first introduced.
- Thursday’s memo from the members of the NHL negotiating committee (Murray Edwards, Jeremy Jacobs, Craig Leipold, Ted Leonsis) outlining the frustrations of negotiating against Fehr and supporting the tactics of Bettman and Daly.
- Saturday’s story out of Philadelphia that Ed Snider was shifting his allegiance from Bettman, that Mr. Snider vehemently denied.
All tasty morsels, but hardly good, quality bargaining
And really, that gets us to this point. And hours until the NHLPA and the NHL go head-to-head in New York City … again.
For the past few months, I have been the most optimistic of the spectators around these CBA negotiations. Perhaps it’s a classic case of a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Or maybe its naïveté. I tend to think it’s my common sense that says no two groups could drive a great sport like hockey, a growing business like the NHL, into the abyss.
All of the above or none of the above, it certainly is hard to understand. But it’s not hard to understand that the once $3.3-billion business is nowhere near that any more. Maybe, with a quick resolution we might have a $2.8-billion business to split between the players and the owners. I hope it’s that much.
The expectation for Monday’s talk cannot be very good. There is nothing to indicate that either side has had an epiphany. I have been told the NHL has made its final offer. And despite claims by the Players’ Association, that the two sides are actually closer than most realize, it’s hard to imagine an agreement with the league gaining so much on the issues of contracting (length of contracts, salary variance, free agency, entry-level system and arbitration) is possible. I certainly can’t imagine the Fehr brothers caving now after losing more than 300 games of the schedule.
So it’s with that in mind, I have little optimism for Monday. And trust me, I would like to be wrong. It would be a great relief to see some real progress in the days to come. Perhaps a 60-game schedule that starts on Dec. 15 is the one thing that can save the sport from itself.
Is there a deal to be made? For sure. I just don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up that the NHL and the PA are close to making a deal. That just is not the case.
And I don’t want to go through too many more days, weeks, months of rhetoric and posturing.