- Scott Burnside, NHL
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It’s not hard to imagine that somewhere down the road we will look back at this weekend and mark it as a turning point in the negotiations between the National Hockey League and its players.
The question is whether we will remember it as the moment that saved the 2012-13 season or the time when the two sides essentially stuck a fork in the campaign and prepared fans for the worst -- another season without NHL hockey.
Without a single formal meeting since the lockout began Sept. 15, the fact the two sides will meet beginning Friday in New York with tentative sessions set for Saturday and Sunday stands as an opportunity for both to find some much-needed traction in the hopes of hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement.
Attending Friday's meeting for the NHLPA will be: Craig Adams, Ron Hainsey, Johan Hedberg, NHLPA special assistant Mathieu Schneider, NHLPA director of operations Alex Dagg, NHLPA associate labor counsel Maria Dennis, lawyer Robert DeGregory, NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr, NHLPA associate counsel Roman Stoykewych and NHLPA's general counsel Don Zavelo.
Some players contacted by ESPN.com indicated they were waiting to make decisions on whether to play overseas or not pending the reports that come out of these talks.
True, the two sides are not slated to talk core economic issues, and, if you’re a cynic -- and the cynics are everywhere as the league and its players find themselves embroiled in a lockout for the second time in eight years -- then you see these sessions as more window dressing as both sides prepare for a lengthy work stoppage.
That’s not to say non-economic issues such as players safety, supplemental discipline, travel and pensions and benefits aren’t important -- they are -- but they remain very much secondary to the core issue of how to split up revenues that last year reached a record $3.3 billion.
The renewal of talks comes against the backdrop of a dwindling timeline in which to save a full slate of 82 regular-season games.
The NHL announced Thursday it was canceling the remainder of the exhibition schedule, but with the regular season set to start Oct. 11, no announcement has been made regarding the cancellation of games that matter.
Not yet, at least, and that is a significant element heading into this weekend’s set of talks.
Presumably the league has held off canning regular-season games pending some sort of forward momentum being generated, starting Friday. It’s expected that without positive momentum coming out of these talks, the league will move next week to formally cancel the opening days of the regular season.
Neither side is expected to present a new economic proposal this weekend, and it’s conceivable that, if talks don’t go well Friday, further discussion on the weekend will be postponed. But many are hoping these talks will bleed into a concerted effort to find middle ground financially.
Wishful thinking? Maybe. But we’re about to find out.
16hScott Burnside and Craig Custance