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.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.

Bulpett: Ainge 'really protective' of ability to go to free agency this summer

Bulpett: Ainge 'really protective' of ability to go to free agency this summer

Steve Bulpett joins Mike Felger to weigh in on the NBA trade deadline and the lack of moves made by Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics thus far.