The NHL and NHLPA may be close to a new collective bargaining agreement, but it appears both sides intend to take negotiations down to the last minute.

Despite the rhetoric from the league side following the breakdown in negotiations last week, the two sides are actually closer to a new deal than at any point since negotiations formally opened in July.

In fact, they’re much closer to a deal now than they were at this point during the previous two lockouts, where they were barely speaking to each other. Negotiations have been ongoing regularly since July, picking up steam to where they’ve staged formal meetings weekly since mid-November.

The new collective bargaining agreement will probably be between 7-10 years in length, include a 50-50 division of hockey-related revenue, around $300 million in “make whole” money to honor parts of existing contracts reduced by the increase of escrow, terms on player contracts, and no amnesty buyouts.

The players will certainly see a reduction in their share of revenue, while the increased escrow claw-backs will reduce part of their salaries. In return, their contracts will remain guaranteed, their arbitration and free agent rights remain untouched, as does the three-year term on entry level deals.

Sure, haggling remains on some issues, as well as others which haven’t gotten much attention of late, like the NHLPA-proposed “cap benefit recapture program”. Perhaps there might even be a provision for some other style of amnesty buyout, such as what the NY Post’s Larry Brooks suggested, where players bought out could be re-signed only for the difference between the buyout amount and the full contract.

Regardless, negotiations have reached the point where all that’s left is reaching the middle ground on some lingering points of contention.

The problem, as more than one pundit and blogger has observed, is neither side appear keen to move to that ground just yet.

That’s because a few weeks remain before the NHL’s anticipated “drop-dead date” for a season-saving agreement, which many anticipate will be around mid-January.

Given we’re currently in mid-December, expect about another month of talks before a deal is finally reached. It’s possible there could be a break for the upcoming Christmas holidays, but both sides are expected to remain in touch.

It’s also possible negotiations to irrevocably break down, to where the league ultimately cancels the season. Still, given where they currently stand, as well as the rumors of moderates on both sides pushing for a deal, a resolution appears likely for early-to mid-January.

Both sides, meanwhile, will use the time between now and then to push for as much as they can get before bringing this lockout to a close and returning to the ice.

Fans, bloggers and pundits will excoriate both sides for taking so long, but neither the league or the PA cares what the public wants, so they certainly aren’t paying any attention to our calls for a swift resolution.

So, we wait, hopefully not for much longer.