Wednesday, October 10, 2012
This is how we get closer to a deal
By Pierre LeBrun
The NHL and NHL Players’ Association resume bargaining talks Wednesday and Thursday in New York, but once again the main agenda is filled with secondary, non-core economic issues.
It’s a continuation of the talks that ended last Tuesday, items such as grievances, health and safety, drug testing, medical care, etc.
In other words, it’s small potatoes, although they are still items that need to be resolved at some point for a new CBA to be fully completed.
Having said that, two sources told ESPN.com Tuesday that the "Big Four" of Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr, Bill Daly and Steve Fehr will gather Wednesday in a meeting separate from the main bargaining session.
The four lead negotiators met last Friday in Toronto in a meeting that was not announced to the media beforehand.
In that meeting, both sides urged each other to come up with new proposals.
But who blinks first?
My belief is that in order for the NHL to get that new proposal from the NHLPA that it is so craving, the league is going to have to show compromises as well, specifically in the area of individual player contracts. The league has never officially taken off the table its list of desired changes to player contracts from its initial proposal, such as extending the entry-level contract system from three years to five years, the elimination of salary arbitration, moving the eligibility age for unrestricted free agency to 10 years of NHL service (it’s now seven years of pro) and the crackdown on back-diving contracts (front-loaded cheat deals). Of those demands, the back-diving contracts is by far, in my mind, the most important demand from the league and I don’t think that one ever comes off the table.
However, I do believe that if the league is willing to officially drop some of the other systemic changes it proposes in player contracts, it might help NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr go to his constituency and gauge the level of interest in submitting a new offer to the league that also shows more compromise, obviously in the area of the players’ share from hockey-related revenue.
In other words, both sides need to move before this process actually gets traction. Oh, and the sky is blue.
I believe this was part of the discussion last Friday when the Big Four met in Toronto, both sides wanting to know where the areas of compromise might be.
I will say this: I still believe there’s going to be some form of NHL season this year. I just don’t believe these two sides are willing to sacrifice an entire season once again over such a different argument from last time. Eight years ago, the entire system was being overhauled. This time, it’s about divvying up money. I just can’t see how that’s worth an entire season.
I’ve had lots of fans ask me about mediation as a possibility to help solve this stalemate. Both sides told ESPN.com Tuesday that at this point in the process, mediation is not in the cards. However, both sides allowed that it could be an option at some point if the stalemate continues.