Entering Day 111 of the NHL lockout, tension between the league and the NHLPA apparently threatens to scuttle the progress made in this week’s negotiations.

CBC.CA: Elliotte Friedman called Thursday a “wasted day” in NHL CBA negotiations, as tension and mistrust threatens to scuttle the progress made in this week’s negotiations. The players were reportedly angered over some missing language in the HRR package received from the league regarding penalties on teams which attempt to “hide” revenue, leading to a small group meeting in the morning which restored those penalties. Issues which continue to divide the sides are determining the salary cap ceiling for 2013-14, player contract term limits (NHL seeks 6 years, NHLPA 8 years), determining the year for a mutual “opt-out” in a ten year CBA (the league wants it at year 8, the PA at year 7), and salary variance (which has reportedly bounced between 10 to 30 percent), in which no year in a multi-year contract can be lower than 60 percent of the highest paid year.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The HRR issue was resolved, but it has apparently stoked the mistrust the players feel toward the NHL, specifically Commissioner Gary Bettman and counsel Bob Batterman. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, there may be movement on the players side regarding player contract term limits,  in which the PA may be willing to accept a seven-year term limit. It’s also notable that the PA is now willing to accept a ten-year CBA as they had sought an eight-year term limit. In my opinion, I believe the league could accept 7 year term limits, as they had offered that up for re-signed players, but they won’t budge on the opt-out year.

Could lack of progress on Thursday stall CBA talks?

Could lack of progress on Thursday stall CBA talks?

THE CANADIAN PRESS: Chris Johnston reports the NHLPA is staging another vote of its membership to allow the executive permission to file a disclaimer of interest. NHLPA director Donald Fehr had been granted the power to file a disclaimer by January 2 in an earlier vote passed overwhelmingly by the players, but allowed the deadline to lapse. The PA also filed its defense with the district court of New York seeking to have the league’s lawsuit filed against the PA late last month thrown out, claiming it was filed for strategic reasons to force the players to remain in a union. Regarding the salary cap issue, the league continues to press for a $60 million cap with a $44 million cap floor for 2013-14, while the PA seeks $65 million with a $44 million floor.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The feeling on the PA side is the league’s tone in negotiations changed after Fehr allowed the January 2 deadline to file a disclaimer to lapse, which spurred the players to stage another vote, which is expected to be completed by Saturday evening, though there’s no word when the deadline for that disclaimer (if the players again allow the executive the right to file one) would be. This appears to me to be the PA’s way of regaining some leverage with the league. Seems to me Fehr was acting in good faith by not filing a disclaimer so as not to jeopardize the talks, leading the league to attempt to exploit the lack of leverage. Though understandable, I also believe the league has unnecessarily antagonized the players again with this gambit, underestimating their resolve.

ESPN.COM: Scott Burnside reported the NHL and NHLPA engaged in a small group discussion last night regarding the contentious pension issue. The league side is reportedly unhappy with a “lack of traction” in Thursday negotiations after offering up a second compliance buyout prior to the start of the 2013-14 season.  Burnside hopes cooler heads prevail on both sides, hoping they won’t allow Thursday’s murky situation to threaten the progress made this week.

Pierre LeBrun wondered if the league did try to pull a fast one on the HRR issue or if the PA’s lawyers overlooked the missing language when it examined the NHL’s offer last week. A league executive wondered if Fehr knew all along the language was missing in that proposal but waited until the right moment to spring it in order to rile up the PA membership when negotiations stalled. LeBrun also reports several players are second-guessing Fehr’s decision not to file a disclaimer of interest on January 2, as several wanted him to do it.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: LeBrun doesn’t buy into what he calls this “conspiracy theory stuff”, but Larry Brooks of the NY Post tweeted yesterday some on the PA side feel Bettman and Batterman attempted a “bait-and-switch” after Fehr let the disclaimer deadline to lapse. The missing language in the HRR may have been an honest oversight, but this does highlight the long-simmering mistrust the players feel toward Bettman. I don’t doubt some players would’ve preferred Fehr to file the disclaimer on January 2, but he is a union man and would prefer not to go that route. He would’ve if talks hadn’t progressed leading up to January 2nd. Indeed, a number of pundits and bloggers felt that filing that disclaimer on January 2 would’ve derailed talks and scuttled a chance for a season-saving CBA. By refiling, the PA is regaining a measure of leverage, and I have no doubt that, if the NHL cancels the season if there’s no deal by January 11, Fehr will file the disclaimer, and this circus moves from the boardroom to the courtroom.

 THE GLOBE AND MAIL: James Mirtle does a great job explaining the NHL push for salary variance and how it would work.  “Here’s the very basics of what’s believed to be on the table right now: A 20 per cent variance limit based on 20 per cent of the first year of a multiyear contract. That means that, if the first year of a deal is $5-million, the max it would be able to vary each season for the life of the deal is $1-million. So a contract could go for seven years and look like so: 5-5-5-4-3-2-1, meaning the player would receive $25-million with a cap hit of just $3.57-million.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Mirtle goes into far greater detail explaining how it would work. It’s definitely well worth the read, but if math and graphics makes your head hurt, his Coles notes version above should do nicely.

NBC SPORTS PRO HOCKEY TALK: Ryan Dadoun cited a tweet from RDS.CA’ Renaud Lavoie reporting the two sides are nearing an agreement on revenue sharing, in addition to the PA willing to accept a ten-year CBA with certain conditions (opt out at year 7).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: For all the doom and gloom permeating much of yesterday’s coverage of negotiations, progress continued to be made. Agreement on length of the CBA, a second compliance buyout, rectifying the dispute over the language in the HRR regarding penalties for clubs which “hide” revenue and nearing agreement on revenue sharing indicates that, while there remains several significant sticking points, they are inching closer to a resolution. 

SPORTSNET.CA: Michael Grange examined yesterday’s legal machinations by the NHLPA, noting some on the league’s side feel Fehr not filing a disclaimer on January 2 to be  “a moment of doubt or a lack of nerve or a sign of a negotiator who they have long argued in loud stage whispers excels at drawing out a fight but has a hard time knowing when the time is right to strike a deal.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If there are folks on the league side who honestly believe Fehr had a moment of doubt or lost his nerve, they’re in for a serious shock. Fehr knows when the right time is to strike a deal, and while some believe he’s deliberately trying to force a cancellation of the season, the fact he didn’t file the disclaimer on January 2 suggests otherwise.

Grange also reported on why the league is insistent on maintaining the $16 million payroll range between the cap ceiling and floor, as the league believes widening it would “threaten competitive balance”. He also points out there are two competing groups of owners currently “howling in Bettman’s ear”. One group is the big market clubs in Canada and the northern US, joined by sponsors and broadcast rights holders, pushing to get a season-saving deal done now; the other are owners in struggling markets – “Anaheim, Columbus, Florida, Tampa Bay and the like” – who see the next CBA as key to their survival and fear Bettman might give up too much.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: During the last lockout, it was the owners who were united and the players who were divided.  The roles have reversed this time. Regarding the salary cap, the league appears to be digging in its heels on that, but I could see them agreeing to raise it slightly (up to $62 million) while maintaining the payroll range. Still, revenue growth over the life of a ten-year deal is going to raise the cap ceiling and floor, as it did under the previous CBA , so the league’s suggestion of upsetting competitive balance by widening that range doesn’t make much sense.

THE NATIONAL POST: Bruce Arthur reports the league and NHLPA have agreed the mediation process will continue today at 10 am. Despite the problems which arose Thursday, Arthur believes the two sides are using the January 11th deadline set by the league to get a deal done to jockey for whatever they can get.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: In other words, expect these negotiations to go right up to that deadline before we get either a resolution or a breakdown in talks leading to the cancellation of the season and a shift toward the courtroom.

 WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: Gary Lawless cited a “veteran member of the NHL’s board of governors says commissioner Gary Bettman is prepared to cancel the season on Thursday (January 10) if a deal has not been reached or appears to be imminent.” The governor claims the league believes Fehr is deliberately trying to slow the process  and is unwilling to do a deal until after Bettman cancels the season, claiming if that happens, the league will pull everything it is currently offering from the table.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: More saber-rattling from the league. Some pundits believe the January 11 deadline set by Bettman is an artificial one, citing the fact he didn’t cancel the season during the last lockout until February 16, but I believe it is folly to compare what he did last time with what he could do this time. I feel Bettman is sincere about cancelling the season by mid-January if there’s no deal in place by then. That being said, I also think the league, via this report, is trying again to drive a wedge between Fehr and the players by claiming the PA director isn’t interested in getting a season-saving deal done. If that were the case, I believe he would’ve filed the disclaimer of interest on January 2.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Helene Elliott suggests yesterday’s flare-up might not be the last between the two sides, but feels there’s no more time to allow emotions to rule the proceedings.

THE SPORTING NEWS: Jesse Spector tears into both sides for allowing “stupidity” to rule the day on Thursday, hoping both sides return to their senses today.

NORTHJERSEY.COM: Jeff Vanderbeek has taken over full ownership of the New Jersey Devils, and the refinancing of the team is now complete.