It took nearly six months of death stares, angry diatribes, jibes, conference room storm-outs and millions upon millions of dollars lost by virtually everybody involved with the NHL.
But finally there is an actual good-faith CBA negotiation going on between the NHL and the NHLPA, and that means there should be a deal done within the next week that will allow NHL arenas to open their doors on Jan. 19. The NHL and NHLPA are meeting daily, holding cordial face-to-face discussions and are exchanging comprehensive offers where traction and middle ground are finally being found.
The two sides are still apart on key issues, of course. The salary cap in Year 2 of the CBA, a cap on escrow, and perhaps even a pension plan that both sides thought theyd agreed to all might still be on the table.
Bruins players should be fighting hard to change the Year 2 cap figure from its current 60 million mark because the Bs have more than 58 million committed to 16 players for the 2013-14 season, and that doesnt include any goaltenders with NHL experience. It appears some measure of roster dismantling could be in place (with familiar faces jettisoned in trades as unwitting salary cap victims) for GM Peter Chiarelli if that figure isnt bumped out by another 5-7 million when the final CBA is approved.
Those issues need to be resolved before both sides can proclaim there is an agreement in principle, or begin making plans for NHL training camp and a shortened 48-game regular season schedule.
But it appears a hard deadline for the season to be whacked Tony Soprano-style something the players clearly cant stomach, and something the NHL owners have reportedly told Gary Bettman they will not accept is forcing both Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr to finally act as deal-makers.
Make no mistake about this embarrassing path of negotiations. The NHL wasnt truly serious about beginning the season until Bettman emailed Fehr with a comprehensive 300-page offer at the end of last week, so none of those tentative start dates in October, November or December had much chance of happening. In fact nothing really happened until the NHLPA threatened to dissolve and take things into the court room. But the olive branch NHL offer prompted a counter-offer from an NHLPA group in New York City that now includes Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference among its negotiating team, and Tuesday night it was the NHLs turn to come back with another offer where they moved toward the players in some key areas.
Even better, both the NHL and NHLPA have finally patched up the leaky back channels that had consistently unearthed details about both sides offers, and done everything possible to make the other side look like mud. A cone of silence has dropped over the negotiations, and that is one of the most promising signs yet that a deal might in the wings.
"We're not trying to keep score," Bettman said, "we're trying to get an agreement."
It appears the NHLs strategy was to grind out the players until January, throw the non-traditional NHL markets a bone by cutting off their three least profitable months of the season, and then cut a deal before throwing itself off the NHL fiscal cliff.
Its a plan thats certainly difficult to stomach for bar, restaurant and parking garage owners around Boston that have taken an unwanted fiscal bath while missing out on an expected 17 home dates this season. Thats 800,000-1 million lost for the city of Bostons economy per home game that people will never get back, according to Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Of course, a great deal of this will be forgotten provided both the NHL and the players can hammer something out over the next nine days. The Bruins and the rest of their NHL brethren will embark on a regular season sprint through a 48-game schedule, and, if reports are true, the league will add another four teams to the playoff mix this year. Excitement will be high by the time the postseason arrives and fans, advertisers and sponsors will likely feel toasty and secure at the beginning of a 10-year CBA that should guarantee good health and prosperity for the league.
But there will also be a nagging feeling for some that so much of this lockout was also completely unnecessary. Its an indictment of leadership on all sides that it was ever allowed to get to the brink of NHL oblivion in January, and its something that needs to be fixed if the league is ever to get past periods of labor strife between Collective Bargaining Agreements.
Its already clear that this current CBA will be a band-aid of sorts without any real revenue sharing that permanently addresses the issues inherent within the business model. The NHL cant be a truly solvent business until the Maple Leafs, Bruins, Canadiens and Rangers are sharing bigger bags of dough with the Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Panthers and Predators.
But thats an argument for next time around when many of the current NHL Board of Governors will surely have turned over. Perhaps those leading the league then will have new ideas and fresher perspectives that can usher in a time when the owners and players are in a true partnership building a league that has so many other things going for it.
For now its just nice that theres a negotiation finally taking place in the New Year, and thats about the only resolution that the hockey-loving public could hope for.