Haggerty: Owners, players finally working together

Haggerty: Owners, players finally working together
November 7, 2012, 4:04 pm
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One important thing to remember after the NHL and NHLPA met for over seven hours on Tuesday: The terms progress and done deal arent synonymous when it comes to a new CBA for the NHL.

Both sides met for the first time since Oct. 18, and according to sources on the players side the discussion was wide-ranging in the realm of contractual issues. It was the longest meeting during the 53-day lockout, and the longest amount of time that Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr have sat in a room across from each other.

It was an opportunity to discuss a secondary set of topics, including restricted free agency, the length of free agent contracts, arbitration and years of service until a player can become a free agent.

One player said traction is being found with these topics and that it seems to be an area where the league might have been willing to give a little back to the players.

Were still talking on Wednesday, one player present at the NYC meetings said to CSNNE.com. The fact that theyre willing to talk I feel means the owners want to get stuff done.

Thats the kind of optimistic tone that has been missing from the players voices throughout the process. Its perhaps the best sign yet that significant progress is being made.

The NHL and NHLPA will sit down again in New York City on Wednesday at an undisclosed location, and its expected that the make-whole provision will be the main focus of negotiations.

Without hyperbole or overstatement, this is where the deal will be made or broken.

The NHL owners are expected to guarantee some level of a make-whole provision funded by Board of Governors rather than the players -- as was originally intended in the first make-whole offer attempt by the league -- in long-term deferred payments.

These are all good things, of course.

Even better if the NHL (spurned forward by a group of owners that are ready to start making money again and advertisers that are concerned about the future of the league) and the NHLPA (now pushing hard for a deal after players expressed to the Fehr Brothers they wanted to step up the urgency to make a deal) arrive at a mutual agreement thats livable to both parties.

But there is also still a long, long way to go. The NHL and NHLPA must figure out a salary cap floor that works for teams like Phoenix, Florida and Nashville as they navigate through a league of haves and the have nots. But revenue sharing and propping up the NHLs struggling financial teams should be a league issue rather than a CBA issue.

Some have attempted to paint it as the players burden to give back so the leagues weak sisters can flourish, but thats ridiculous. It wasnt the players that concocted the idea of shoehorning NHL hockey into the Sun Belt, and its only a simple band-aid solution to shift points in the Hockey Related Revenue pie.

It should fall on the leagues 30 Montgomery Burnses, not the drone workers in the Springfield nuclear power plant, to create a financial model that will work for both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New Jersey Devils.  

But thats where both sides sit currently. The players are willing to take a significant drop in their share from the 57 percent negotiated in the last CBA, and theyre willing to make no gains in player contract rights. All theyre simply asking for in the end is for the NHL owners to live up to the contracts they signed prior to the lockouts deep freeze.

The players union understands it has little leverage and has drawn its line in the sand where they feel both victory and self-respect reside. Its up to the NHL to give that to them after botching the entire negotiation with the draconian July offer thats put the league in its current predicament.

Now its up to the league and the players to fast-track the negotiation process and hammer out a deal this week if possible. The least profitable portion of the NHL season has been lopped off as a favor to the NHL owners, and upwards of 22 percent of player salaries have been chewed up by the work stoppage.

The NHL has already achieved some of its short term goals while getting the players to agree on the 5050 split of revenues that they wanted all along.

If a prompt deal can happen, then perhaps the NHL regular season can start sooner than Dec. 1. Only the NHL and NBC know if things like the Turkey Day Showdown and a different version of the Winter Classic could still be in play, but some pretty intriguing possibilities remain for a livable shortened NHL season.

The scariest part might be just how well a truncated NHL campaign would actually work. So many people in non-traditional hockey markets act as though they think the NHL season doesnt begin until Christmas anyway, this season might just show how workable that proposition would be.

But those are all luxuries the NHL can enjoy only if they get a deal done in the next 7-10 days.

Back over the summer Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was very complimentary when talking to CSNNE.com about Fehrs leadership, and what it portended for the CBA negotiations.

I dont know Donald Fehr aside from what Ive seen of him in the past, but I think hes a deal-maker, said Chiarelli. I know he does his job.

Fehr has his marching orders from the players, and the NHL now appears open to actual negotiations. Its time, as one player said, to get stuff done.

Finally, it appears that everyone that matters in the NHL world shares that same goal.