Following a week in which the NHL and NHLPA were seemingly moving closer to a deal, it ends with no resolution and an overwhelming sense of frustration and gloom among NHL followers.
What to make of all this?
Obviously there’s public posturing taking place by both sides, who are also attempting to exploit each other’s real or perceived weaknesses in hopes of squeezing more concessions before a final deal is reached.
In the aftermath of this week’s negotiations, ending with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman now claiming everything the league offered this week was “off the table”, it’s only natural to assume what remains of the 2012-13 season is in jeopardy.
Of course, we’ve previously heard from Bettman claiming the league made its “last, best offer” several times since CBA negotiations began in July. That’s not to suggest Bettman and the owners aren’t serious, but in negotiations one should never assume that what has been “taken off the table” is irrevocably gone.
Bettman claimed the owners made it clear their recent offer was contingent upon the players accepting the entire package, while Fehr saw it as an opportunity to negotiate off of points contained in that offer.
As I’ve noted previously on this site, there are issues both sides have reached common ground on, and those in which they’re close. It wouldn’t be surprising if the notable issues proposed this week end up back on the table as talks resume in the near future.
The league’s “make whole” provision offer of $300 million reportedly upset some owners who felt it was too much, but having put it on the table once, it could reappear if the players should eventually prove willing to accept it.
Otherwise, the league might have to gradually phase in the division of HRR or perhaps honor existing contracts, neither of which the owners are keen to accept.
The league conceded on maintaining the players’ arbitration and free agency rights, plus previously agreed to keep entry level contracts at three years. Those were significant sticking points for the players, and have now been properly addressed by the league.
For the first time, the players expressed a willingness to accept term limits, which they were previously (and forcefully) against.
The league maintained its desire for five year term limit on contracts, but this week also proposed an option allowing teams to re-sign pending free agents up to seven years. The PA subsequently counter-offered with eight year term limits.
While the players remain against five year term limits, we shouldn’t forget they compromised on the division of hockey-related revenue down to a 50-50 split, though the implementation still has to be hashed out with the league.
Having counter-proposed their own term limit, they could eventually accept the league’s five year term with a seven year option for re-signing free agents.
Transition issues raised by the players during this week’s meetings (amnesty buyouts and limits on escrow) may still have to be discussed. Amnesty buyouts were briefly mentioned in earlier talks, so it shouldn’t be surprising to see it come up again.
Daly said the owners didn’t want those as part of the agreement, but it remains to be seen if that is etched in stone.
What will be interesting now, of course, is what transpires over the next several days as both sides pause to reflect on this week’s events and plot their respective courses.
It was evident from the reaction by Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly and the statements released by the four “moderate” owners who attended this week’s meetings they are very frustrated with the NHLPA leadership. It certainly appears Fehr’s tactics have gotten under their collective skins.
By turn, however, one wonders what the reaction throughout the NHLPA rank and file will be to these latest developments.
The league may be hoping those players could waver and spark a revolt within the ranks against the Fehr brothers akin to the one which led to the eventual downfall of then-PA director Bob Goodenow back in 2005.
Given rumors claiming the league tried to force the players into a “yes” or “no” decision regarding their proposal without the presence of Donald Fehr, even suggesting his return to the talks could be a “deal-breaker”, could also serve to galvanize the players in support of their leader.
Prior to the implosion of the latest round of negotiations, the consensus among those NHL players, coaches and other league personnel interviewed this week was the two sides were so close to a deal now they couldn’t see any reason not to get one done soon.
While the emotion emerging from this latest round of talks is genuine, we don’t appear yet to have reached the stage where this season is in danger of cancellation. Indeed, Bettman in his press conference denied he had a drop dead date to get a deal done, or that he was giving consideration to cancelling the season.
It’s also notable that Bettman said a 48-game schedule was as low as he was willing to go in order to have a season of any integrity, which suggests another four to six weeks of negotiations remain in the offing before we reach the point of the cancellation of another season.
He acknowledged what we were seeing were tough negotiations, and it’s obvious that, while the promise of this week ended in disappointment, they’re not done talking yet.