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Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Make Whole chatter will determine future

By Pierre LeBrun



NEW YORK -- It had to wait awhile, but finally the Make Whole discussion made its foray into this week’s NHL labor talks Wednesday night before the two sides wrapped things up.

It certainly won’t be the end of that discussion, with sources on both sides telling ESPN.com that there will be more Make Whole chatter Thursday as the NHLPA and NHL meet for a third consecutive day here in snowy New York.

And that discussion, for better or for worse, will decide whether or not there’s a chance at a new CBA in the near future.

The Make Whole provision -- the formula that would honor existing player contracts in the face of the players' hockey-related revenue share dropping from 57 percent to 50 percent -- is either the breakthrough waiting to happen or the kiss of death to this round of talks.

The league told the NHLPA last week that it was willing to fund a sizable portion of Make Whole, instead of its original offer three weeks ago in which players would pay players in deferred payments. Several players told ESPN.com they wanted to read the fine print on that seemingly intriguing possibility before believing it was legit.

On Wednesday night, both sides discussed Make Whole as a concept before wrapping up their 5½-hour meeting. They then huddled up in internal meetings to end the night.

The day was supposed to be mostly about the Make Whole provision -- that was the original plan -- but the first four hours or so of Wednesday's meeting dealt once again with revenue sharing (among teams).

In fact, Wednesday’s meeting, which originally the league hoped would start by 1 p.m. ET, was delayed until 3:30 p.m., because the NHLPA needed more time for internal work, including more on revenue sharing.

And guess what, a source from the players’ side said revenue sharing will once again be on the table Thursday.

It should surprise no one that revenue sharing is taking up this much discussion time. NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr has repeatedly expressed since talks began last June how critical revenue sharing was in the union accepting any new deal with the NHL.

To wit, Fehr’s assertion is that if owners’ player costs are going to be reduced in this CBA, then the NHLPA feels it’s only fair that the league agrees to a more meaningful revenue-sharing system that also reduces the losses of some of the NHL’s weaker sisters.

To be fair, the NHL did improve its revenue-sharing plan in its last proposal three weeks ago, willing to spend $200 million in the new deal, increased from $150 million in the old CBA.

Still, it remains short of the money the players want to see in play for revenue sharing, but more importantly, the two sides have different philosophies on how the revenue-sharing plan should be implemented. And the NHLPA certainly wants a voice in some form of joint committee in the new CBA, which will help decide how money is doled out in revenue sharing.

The league has downplayed the importance of this issue in terms of how far apart both sides are on it.

Fehr, given his background in baseball where he pushed as union leader for more meaningful revenue sharing, will make sure it gets addressed to his liking -- or as close as possible -- in this CBA.

So from that perspective, I guess we can’t be shocked so much time was spent on it Tuesday and Wednesday with more to come on Thursday.

Can we call any of this progress?

That’s still too early to call. But they’re talking for a third consecutive day. And both sides stayed mum to the media again on Wednesday night. I’ll take that as a promising sign -- but know that this could still unravel Thursday.