NHL, NHLPA still short of the goal

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NHL, NHLPA still short of the goal

Lets start with the positives.

The NHL and NHLPA are now on the same wavelength, and the players union admitted it saw a step forward in the leagues alterations to the make-whole provision first discussed last weekend. That means the hawkish NHL owners are now willing to fund some portion of the deferred plan to guarantee full payment on player contracts signed prior to the lockout. Depending on how much of the make-whole pie the owners are willing to fund, it could be a concession in the 200 million-plus range, and that's certainly nothing to sneeze at.

The details are fuzzy on exactly how much the owners are actually willing to pay, and one source said a significant gap still remains." Still, thats normal in negotiations, and may not necessarily prevent an agreement that would have training camps open right after Thanksgiving. The sides are also still both talking and being cordial toward each other, so that's also encouraging.

Now for the negatives.

The NHL hasnt moved much closer to the middle ground on anything else. Sure, the two sides are working off a similar script on some details, but the NHL has basically told the players they must accept the contract rights that have been previously offered. That means there's been no discernible bend or compromise from the league on:

Preventing players from becoming free agents before eight years of service, and before a player reaches the age of 28.

Subtracting one year of arbitration eligibility.

Capping term limits for contracts at five years.

Allowing only five percent variability on each year of a particular contract.

And, perhaps most importantly:

The owners are still demanding an immediate reset to a 5050 split of revenue in the first year of the new CBA. The NHLPA has proposed a staggered three-year lowering of the split until it reaches 5050 in 2014-15. But it appears the owners are holding fast on this point, and it could be their end game in these CBA negotiations.

Its been speculated the NHL will bend a little on some of the contract-rights issues coveted by the players, who hope to keep them as close to the previous CBA as possible. But the NHL hasnt given any indication theres any flexibility at all since their last offer on Oct. 18, and that will be a key talking point over the next segment of negotiations. So far it's been a laborious, slow-moving process where calling it a slow crawl would be engaging in hyperbole.

"We've taken some steps, but there's still a lot more bridges to cross," said one source on the players side of things. "There's still a lot more work to be done."

The NHL and NHLPA are still planning to meet face-to-face on Friday, when, according to one source, they will discuss pension issues along with other assorted CBA talking points that have regularly been on the agenda. It will bring the total amount of time they've spent negotiating this week to about 20 hours, the longest stretch of talks in months.

It's been a deliberate crawl from each side toward the middle ground prompted by the cancelling of the Winter Classic. But watching the relative unwillingness to bend from either side begs the question just what else is going to get cancelled, whacked or flamed into scorched earth before Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr and Co. decide to make a big move in the other sides direction.

A season of 64 games, kicking off on Dec. 1, is still very much a reachable goal. But the clock is ticking and major strides are still needed. Neither side has fully blinked, and one gets the sense we still haven't heard the "final offer" from either the NHL or the NHLPA.

Could the NHL compromise and extend contract-term limits to seven years, or return free agency back to previous level of 27 years old and seven years of service, as an olive branch to the players?

Of course it could.

Could the players decide its not worth protecting entry-level contracts, and roll the dice in that area while making certain to get satisfactory player contract situations elsewhere?

Thats a certainty.

Its nice the league and the players have toned down the rhetoric and finally rolled up their sleeves for good, old-fashioned negotiating. But that also means there must be proper give-and-take in both areas, and there still isnt much give from the NHL aside from the make-whole scenario.

In all fairness, a little less "take" from the players side would also streamline the negotiating process. But this lockout has been more a leagueownercommissioner thing than its been a player thing, and thats widely understood by everyone. It's nice to be cautiously optimistic, but it would also be nicer if the NHL would off some of their other Oct. 18 "concessions."

The NHL needs to do much better with the stench of the cancelled Winter Classic still fresh in the winter air, and the players need to keep pushing their leadership to make a deal thats in the best interest of both the game and the players. Both sides are slowly, surely closing in on the makings of a workable deal, but neither side should be ecstatic with the final CBA document that clears up the lockout haze.

Thats the true sign of a fair deal for both sides, and theyre not at all close to one of those just yet in an excruciating process for hockey fans.

Collins' new contract may influence Patriots' negotiations with Hightower

Collins' new contract may influence Patriots' negotiations with Hightower

FOXBORO -- Jamie Collins and the Cleveland Browns are reportedly closing in on a contract that will turn the ex-Pat's place of exile into his long-term place of work. 

That's interesting in itself. The Browns must have made it clear to Collins he was getting franchised, otherwise you'd think Collins would want to get out there and test the market for at least a couple of days when free agency rolled around. 

It will also be interesting for Collins' former teammate in New England, Dont'a Hightower. While the Patriots aren't going to let the Browns dictate their market and offers when it comes to negotiating with Hightower, Collins' contract will be a useful comp for Hightower. 

Whatever Collins gets, Hightower can make the case for a fair amount more. Hightower is the centerpiece of the Patriots defense, a run-stopper, blitzer, leader and tone-setter. From the jersey number (Tedy Bruschi's old number 54) they encouraged him to wear, to selecting him captain, the team and Hightower's teammates have stated how important he is to the club. 

Hightower on the open market would be in line for a contract in the $10 million-per-year range, with a total value of around $50 million (using Luke Kuechly, Navarro Bowman, Bobby Wagner and Lawrence Timmons as comparable players). The Patriots can franchise Hightower just as easily as the Browns could have franchised Collins. The sticking point for the player is that he doesn't realize the windfall of guaranteed money that comes with a long-term deal. The injury Sword of Damocles dangles every day. 

In other words, Collins' influence on the Patriots isn't done yet. 

Report: Chip Kelly was scheduled to meet with Bill Belichick recently

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Report: Chip Kelly was scheduled to meet with Bill Belichick recently

FOXBORO -- Might Chip Kelly be working for the Patriots at some point in the near future? One report calls New England a "logical" landing spot for the former Eagles and 49ers head coach. 

According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Kelly "was headed to New England to meet with [Bill] Belichick" once he found out that he was no longer in the running for the offensive coordinator job in Jacksonville. 

Kelly was fired by the 49ers after one season as head coach and has been interested in continuing his career as an NFL coach, per Mortensen. Kelly coached the Eagles for three seasons, going 26-21.

Belichick openly threw his support behind Kelly after he was let go by Philadelphia on New Year's Eve in 2015.

"I would say it's actually disappointing," Belichick said at the time. "Chip Kelly to me is a really good football coach. He does a great job. I think he's done a good job with that team. It's disappointing to see . . . Pretty much everybody's on a one-year contract in this league. I don't know how you build a program in one year. 

"Chip's a great coach. He'll end up somehwere and he'll do a great job there. I'd say a lot of the players that were on the Eagles that are no longer on the Eagles aren't really doing too much for anybody else, either."

Mortensen opines that the Belichick-Kelly connection would make sense because of their tight bond. 

"The friendship between Kelly and [Belichick] is no secret," Mortensen wrote. "They have exchanged football concepts since Kelly's fast-tempo offense became the rage at Oregon."

Per Mortensen, Kelly was considered an asset by executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin, and he was in the running for a job there, yet new coach Doug Marrone saw Kelly as a bad "philosophical fit." 

Apparently that led to Kelly's planned visit here. 

There is history of the Patriots hiring friendly faces during the postseason. In 2012, Belichick re-hired Josh McDaniels to work with then offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, who was set to take over Penn State's program after the season. McDaniels -- who had been the offensive coordinator for the Rams earlier that year -- re-claimed his role as offensive coordinator in New England the following season and has been in-house ever since. 

Kelly has no experience as one of Belichick's employees -- McDaniels, of course, rose through the coaching ranks in New England before being hired as head coach in Denver in 2009 -- but perhaps he is a candidate to fulfill a role similar to the one McDaniels was given before Super Bowl XLVI.