Haggerty: Time for sides to show they care about NHL season

Haggerty: Time for sides to show they care about NHL season
October 24, 2012, 2:21 pm
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With everybody and their puck-loving uncle believing that an 82-game NHL regular season hangs in the balance over the next 48 hours, the NHL and NHLPA arent going to meet because they essentially cant agree on who will cater the negotiating session.

Its more complicated than that, obviously, but it doesnt appear either side is taking seriously the Thursday deadline for a Nov. 2 start to the regular season at this point.

The NHLPA held a Tuesday conference call with over 100 players, and concluded that discussion by formally asking to meet with NHL officials on Wednesday as an extension of negotiations. They were rebuffed by NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, who essentially said theres nothing to discuss after last weeks breakdown in negotiations.

The league put out a straight 5050 offer with the players that included a make whole provision and a slight easement on the contract rights limitations proposed this summer. They also announced it was essentially a take-it-or-leave-it offer with only slight tweaks allowed to the proposal. In the leagues eyes there isnt much ground for discussion if the players arent ready to embrace that deal fully, and the NHL side contends that some hard line owners are displeased with the amount theyve already conceded.

They suggested they were willing to meet. But they also told us they werent interested in the proposal made last Tuesday and that they werent prepared to make their own proposal, said Daly in a statement to reporters. Not sure what we would be meeting about.

Daly's statement elicited a response from NHLPA lead counsel Steve Fehr outlining a group of NHL players looking to talk. This despite the fact there isnt a single actual concession from the owners in their latest proposal, and the NHL players would be in a worse position at every imaginable turn from the last CBA.

Have the 700-plus NHLPA members finally decided to further discuss the make whole provision and perhaps find a way to take deferred payments out of the owners profits rather than the players?

Have the players decided they can live with a small amount of escrow in the five percent neighborhood to help make a 5050 split possible at the start of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Its difficult to tell whats afoot if theres not actual dialogue between the power quartet of Daly, Gary Bettman and the Fehr brothers.

"The league is apparently unwilling to meet, said Steve Fehr in a statement. That is unfortunate as it is hard to make progress without talking."

Thats solid logic from Fehr, of course.

But its also reached the point in these negotiations where nobody can differentiate between the PR spin battle and legitimate attempts to bridge the gap between each side. Theres no trust on either side, and that situation was exacerbated by the NHL owners, presidents and GMs secretly getting into contact with the players during a 48-hour period last week.

Bruins President Cam Neely gave a no comment when asked by CSNNE.com if hed been in contact with Bruins players during that 48-hour amnesty period last week. According to sources within the NHLPA, the union expected the hawk owners to be more proactive in reaching out the players during the lockout amnesty period. Bruins management would clearly qualify under that description.

The league contends there were specific controls in place for the ownerplayer conversations to keep proper good-faith bargaining in place, but its impossible to police those kinds of chats with so much at stake. A much more believable scenario is the NHL was doing its level best to get the players to strike out against Fehrs NHLPA leadership. But that kind of thing -- so common in the past for an NHLPA thats always been in a constant state of fracture -- just isnt going to happen this time around.

The clandestine operations to undermine each other and verbal volleys back and forth have come to characterize these negotiations, and theres real damage being done to the NHLs reputation and the fans' interest.

Thats particularly disappointing when its clear both sides have moved closer to each other in the last week.

The NHL wants a 5050 split of Hockey Related Revenue and the NHLPA wants the league to guarantee the full value of all contracts signed before Sept. 15. Both are fair and reasonable requests. Its impossible to have both, though, without escrow or long-term deferment, however.

Common sense would say that there has to be a creative way to incorporate both to the satisfaction of the owners and the players given the brain power involved with these labor talks.

The NHL and NHLPA are hundreds of millions apart (rather than a billion dollars) after last weeks flurry of proposals, but neither side has indicated a legitimate willingness to budge off their last offers.

Perhaps that wont change in the next 48 hours, and both sides will cry uncle on the possibility of an 82-game season.

But there has to be some greater wiggle room left to save a full 82-game regular season if both the NHL and NHLPA are truly interested in a full hockey campaign that could run through the playoffs until June 30. One NHL player on last week's conference call indicated there's a belief that Nov. 2 isn't a drop dead date, and that a full season could be possible if started a week or two afterward.

Maybe there would be a little flexibility left if one side can finally step forward for the greater good of the game. But that seems an old-time hockey pipe dream right now.

The more likely scenario: Nov. 2 goes by the boards and the NHL and NHLPA agree on a new CBA at some point later in the month of November. That could lead to a shortened NHL season of 60-70 games and picturesque glove save to keep the Red Wings-Maple Leafs Winter Classic intact. MLive.com indicated last week that the NHL wouldnt be forced to cancel the Winter Classic until around November 15-20 because it would need at least that amount of time to prepare for the Jan. 1 outdoor game.

So nobody needs to live in fear the entire NHL season -- and all of its tent-pole events -- will be cancelled if negotiations this week suddenly turn into the final bullet-riddled shootout scene from True Romance.

But it would be nice if both sides decided to show everybody else that they actually care, wouldnt it?