LOWELL It wasnt quite doomsday for the Bruins players taking part in Wednesday nights Milan Lucic Rock and Jock softball game at LeLacheur Park, butthey knew that things have started to get snippy in the NHL's CBA negotiations.
At the end of the day, of course, theyre hockey players and they simply just want to play hockey.
That desire becomes a little more acute when its a prideful team like the Bruins that surprisingly got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs last year by the Washington Capitals.
Were going to stick together no matter what and eventually a deal is going to get done, said Bs defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who sounded the most optimistic tone. Well all be back in Boston and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. Because we all want to get back on the ice and play.
But the two sides are a meaningful gulf apart according NHLPA Exec Director Donald Fehr after both the NHL and NHLPA have made offers that were completely independent of each other, and the news doesnt seem to be getting any better.
One NHL agent told CSNNE.com that he was advising his clients that the league probably wont be getting underway until around Christmas, and to start to make other arrangements if it gets better before it gets worse.
I dont think were going to be playing anytime soon, said the agent. My best case is Christmas. It looks grim right now. Bettman is overreaching. He had a chance to get the players believing he wanted a partnership. Instead he wants a return to feudalism.
Those are strong words, and they dont paint an optimistic picture for the NHL. Hockey sources around the industry have routinely indicated to CSNNE.com that the regular season isnt expected to start until Thanksgiving at the earliest, and the Winter Classic on New Years Day as the drop-dead latest.
So everybody seems to agree that NHL hockey pucks will be dropped this season, but it could be awhile.
In fact Fehr and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman cancelled an afternoon negotiation meeting on Wednesday in the wake of recent talks. They were expected to reconvene on Thursday in Toronto.
Players have been taking note of the tenor of conversations.
Draconian is the way the NHLs offer has been described, and the adjective fits: NHL players forced to play 10 years before they reach free agency, an abolition of salary arbitration, contract limits of five years and a drop in the players share of Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) from its current 57 percent level all the way down to 43 percent.
The initial offer from the NHLPA has an economic system heavy on revenue sharing allowing the have and have not NHL franchises all becoming economically viable in a hockey business thats never been better.
"Obviously hearing about how the meetings went on Wednesday, it didnt seem like they went that smoothly. It obviously seems like that gulf is still there between the two sides," said Milan Lucic, who said he plans on attending some of the bargaining sessions in person once he returns from his wedding in the Bahamas this week.
"As a union you can see how much weve come together by looking at how many players have shown up for meetings and negotiation sessions. You can see how into it we are. Theres nothing more we want than for hockey to start, and thats why were as involved as we are in everything."
Thats perhaps the single biggest difference between this CBA negotiation and the one that led to the year-long lockout in 2004-05. Of course, the business of NHL hockey is much more robust with a record-high of 3.2 billion in revenues coming in last season. But the NHLPA is also stronger than its ever been. Under Fehr theyve brought all members together into a tightly formed bond, and theyve got the full, undivided support of the games best players.
It was no accident that both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were on hand when the NHLPA made their first proposal last week, and the players all stressed how universally supported Fehr is among the rank-and-file union membership.
We believe in him 100 percent, said one Bs player. We all know that weve got the exact right person at the right time heading the union, and that hes going to get us the best deal possible. Its fascinating just listening to him on conference calls talking about the business of hockey, and our future in the game.
His range of knowledge on all of the issues is really impressive, and hes got us as solidly together on this as Ive ever seen the membership since I got into the league.
So the players have dug into their position and it seems that Bettman and the penny-wise NHL owners are equally positioned in their trench. The NHL Commissioner told reporters that the two sides are far apart when the players made their proposal, and theyll remain that way until both sides start making concessions.
The players have already done that by agreeing to drop their percentage of HRR to roughly a 5050 split in the next three years of a CBA agreement, but the league hasnt budged from its unreasonable first proposal.
That probably wont happen by Sept. 15, and it probably wont happen until the NHL starts missing regular season games. But the hope is that the league will eventually embrace the revenue-sharing plan that successful franchises like Montreal, Boston, Chicago, New York and Toronto are currently blanching at.
Thats when fans and players will get what they want, and theyll get their hockey back.