The blessed end might just be near.
With the news that the NHL submitted a 300-page document to the NHLPA that constitutes the most thorough offer handed out during the four month NHL lockout, the two sides stepped much closer to ending a work stoppage thats dragged the league into embarrassment and torment. Thats a good thing because the NHL has also basically pinpointed a Jan. 11 date that both sides must have a working agreement in order, so a 48-game shortened NHL season can begin on Jan. 19.
According to sources close to the negotiation, the NHL and NHLPA will host a Saturday afternoon conference call to discuss the offer, pore over the details, answer each others questions and exchange ideas. If all goes well then the two sides will get together on Sunday in New York City for the first face-to-face meeting since the first week of December and thats expected to be a precursor to a deal taking place.
That all of this is happening in the same breath reports are circulating the 30 NHL Board of Governors told commissioner Gary Bettman that losing an entire season is not an option tells you all you need to know.
More good news: sources have indicated to CSNNE.com that NHL employees have been told to return to their cities of employment and plan for a mid-January start to the season. Its understandable that some would say weve been down this road before, and they are 100 percent correct.
There may even be another small bump or two on the road to a fully executed CBA as Donald Fehr and the NHLPA ask for a few more tweaks on their end of the deal: the players are blanching at the 60 million salary cap theyll be facing in the second year of the deal and there are concerns about no limit to the amount the league can lock up in an escrow account.
But for all intents and purposes the NHLPA moderates have received everything they could have hoped they would get in the deal. The players knew they were going to be on the losing end of the CBA proposition, and that their share of Hockey Related Revenue was going way, way down. It was simply a matter of getting the best deal possible while preserving some semblance of the 2013 season, and the players have received that under Fehrs leadership.
Some of the highlights of the deal:
The NHL has raised the contract term limits from five to six years with teams able to re-sign their own players up to seven years.
The NHL will allow up to 10 percent variance on year-to-year salaries on contracts up from 5 percent in all of their past offers.
The NHL will keep the 300 make whole money to offset the drop in Hockey Related Revenue percentage after they insisted it was off the table during their last round of discussions.
The NHL will allow each of the 30 teams one amnesty buy-out opportunity prior to the 2013-14 season that will not count against the cap, but will come out of the players share of revenue.
All non-playoff teams will be included in an NHL draft lottery with a chance at the No. 1 overall pick similar to the highly successful NBA draft lottery.
A 10-year CBA that will ensure both sides have labor peace for a long period of time that will allow the sport to recover from two ugly lockouts within eight years of each other that truly challenged the health and well-being of the NHL.
The NHLPA has won back some respect as a union with no greater compliment that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman lashing out at the hard bargaining techniques employed by Fehr and Co. when he blew up in front of the media on Dec. 6. In fact the NHL has backed off the term limits on individual player contracts after Deputy Commissioner infamously said that was the hill we will die on three weeks ago.
The big question now is why didnt this happen three weeks ago?
When it was clear the NHL and NHLPA were close to a deal and they could have potentially saved a 60-game regular season, why didnt the NHL push ahead with this 300-page full, comprehensive offer as answer to the players early December proposal?
The NHL instead stormed out of the meeting with Bettman calling down fire and brimstone fury during a more than 30-minute press conference. Why wouldnt the league simply engage in give-and-take negotiations if their intent was truly to get back on the ice as quickly as possible?
There might even be one more fit of pique left in the Bettman and Daly bag of tricks prior to an early January agreement on a CBA, but all of that seems almost a fait accompli at this point. Almost everybody thought there would be some sort of shortened NHL season this year despite the lockout, but nobody thought the vitriol and hard feelings will things to get this far gone.
The good news is that the end is nigh and NHL hockey should be back less than a month from now. The bad news is that the NHL and the NHLPA are going to need to take a long, hard look at ways to win the fandom back after alienating so many through one of the most embarrassing CBA negotiations in the history of professional sports.
They proved after 2004-05 they were capable of doing it, and now they must do whatever it takes all over again.