Haggerty: NHL talks will go the distance

Haggerty: NHL talks will go the distance
January 4, 2013, 6:40 am
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It probably couldnt have ended any other kind of way.
Both the NHL and NHLPA appear to be wholly uncomfortable with actual discussions and good faith negotiations simply because thats the quickest way to a CBA solution. Instead, both sides continue to mistrust the other, and with good reason. The NHL players and league officials have made great progress this week on a number of Collective Bargaining fronts, but the players are also miffed that the league has backed away from previous commitments made to the pension plan.
Theres also an issue with Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) that became the only topic of face-to-face conversation between the players and league. NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr never showed up at the NHL offices for any of the negotiations, and instead was focused on putting together another vote to potentially dissolve the union. The renewed disclaimer of interest vote is necessary because the NHL was acting very differently on Thursday without the threat of decertification hanging over their collective heads.
It seems that neither Fehr nor NHL commissioner Gary Bettman appear willing to close a deal before staring down the barrel of the season cancellation gun at the end of next week. In fact, the Winnipeg Free Press quoted a veteran Board of Governors member on Thursday night saying that Bettman is prepared to cancel the season on Thursday if a deal has not been reached or appears to be imminent.
Despite this, the NHLPA believes Bettman will flinch when it comes to whacking the entire 2013 NHL season given the pressure from media, fans, sponsors, advertisers and some very unhappy owners that have watched a three-ring negotiating circus sully the leagues reputation.
The NHL believes it can threaten, bully and browbeat the players as theyve done in the past, and that eventually their tried and true techniques of schoolyard negotiating will work once again. But this is a different time and a different group of players that dont trust the league, and feel like they must stand up for themselves after getting pounded in 2004-05.
Both are resolute in their strategies at this point. But both the owners and the players know they cant cancel this season without permanently damaging their 3.3 billion brand, and so NHL employees around the league are being told that the season will begin on Jan. 19. A 48-game regular season has been in the works for weeks, and it will start with rivalry games in nearly every corner of North America. It will be a shining beacon of the best that NHL hockey can represent when everything else doesnt get in the way.
But it will also be a stark reminder of the searing stupidity and morbid selfishness that allowed things to spin so monumentally out of control, and once brought the NHL to its knees without even a single game being played.
Things like threatening the cancellation of the season and disclaimer of interest movements are seemingly the only language that moves anybody once it has reached this level of trench warfare. At least both sides had consistently traded offers over the last few days and significant progress had been made on year-to-year variance, CBA length, amnesty buyouts (teams have two rather than one now) among other things.
But it doesnt really matter whether its the pension plan, the salary cap during the second year of the CBA or term limits on individual player contracts. This was a deal destined to never get done until there is exactly one second left on the stopwatch to a cancelled season, and both sides had made their final attempt to scrounge up any remaining scraps left on the table.
That means there is still a week of wiggle room left to harass the other side, show up two hours late for meetings or perhaps stage one last take it or leave it offer before storming out of a conference room.
Sadly it appears that Bettman and Fehr wouldnt have it any other way.