Maybe a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame is just what Gary Bettman and Don Fehr needed.
Maybe the league’s embattled commissioner and headstrong union leader needed to see what hockey fans are missing to gain a better appreciation of what they are paid to do: Get the National Hockey League back on the ice.
Bettman and Fehr attended Monday night’s Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, in which Adam Oates, Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin and Pavel Bure were enshrined.
Sundin described the work stoppage, now in Day 59, as “awful” and “devastating.”
No one disagrees. But there remains a strong feeling from nearly everyone involved in the negotiations that a resolution will occur and there will be a shortened hockey season. It’s just a matter of how quickly.
“I’m very positive it’s going to be resolved in a matter of weeks, maybe two or three weeks,” Hall of Famer and current player agent Igor Larionov told the Canadian Press. “You’ll see the game back in shape and the players playing.”
As of Tuesday morning there were no scheduled talks between the NHL and its players’ union, which remain apart on three key issues: how to get to a 50-50 split in league revenue while honoring all contracts; player contract rights; and revenue sharing.
The two sides appear to have closed the gap on revenue sharing, where the NHL reportedly has boosted its annual small-market relief fund from $140 million to $220 million.
But there remain disagreements over how the NHL can “make whole” on all current contracts. Under their most recent offer, the owners have promised to give the players $149 million in deferred payments after this season and $62 million after Year 2. In essence, allowing the two sides to get to 50-50 by Year 3.
The league also wants to limit contracts to five years; keep teams from front-loading or back-loading contracts; extend unrestricted free agency from age 27 to age 28 or eight years of service; reduce entry-level contracts to two years; and allow salary arbitration after five years.
"It's pretty one-sided,” Sidney Crosby told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I don't really know what (the owners) have given up to this point. They’re trying to take away all the contracting rights.
“The question I’d ask is why would we change that? I think we all think it’s the most competitive league in the world so why would you go and change that - the way contracts go and the way teams can operate? If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Speaking at the PrimeTime Sports Management Conference in Toronto on Monday, NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said he believes the contracting rights could be settled fairly quickly once concessions are made on the “make whole” provision.
“It’s kind of hard to believe anyone’s going to drive the industry bus off a cliff over things like that,” Fehr said, “but I've seen things before that surprise me.”
With all of the issues now on the table and both sides knowing exactly the other’s position, Fehr believes one major concession could lead to a quick agreement.
“One thing [deputy commissioner] Bill Daly and I agree upon is that when the moment is right the deal could be done very quickly,” Fehr said Monday at the PrimeTime Sports Management Conference in Toronto. “One day, three days or whatever.”
Of course, the only way the two sides can resolve their differences is to return to the bargaining table and after meeting seven times over the previous nine days, there are no meetings scheduled.