First, the good news.
Representatives from the NHL and its players’ union met with federal mediators for a second straight day in New Jersey on Thursday and talks are planned to resume on Friday.
Now, the not-so-good news.
The owners and players have not altered their stances on the issues that are getting in the way of settling their three-month old work stoppage.
“I’m not sure what the next steps will be,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Associated Press in an email. “I do expect the mediators to stay involved in terms of monitoring our ongoing negotiations, but at this point there are no further sessions planned.
“It doesn’t appear there was movement by either side on any of the main issues over the last two days.”
If you’re getting a little frustrated with the NHL’s inability to split an estimated annual revenue of $3.3 billion you’re not alone. President Barack Obama shares your pain, even though he has not yet attended a Capitals game at Verizon Center.
In an interview with WCCO-TV in Minneapolis on Thursday Obama delivered this message to the NHL’s owners and players:
“’You guys make a lot of money and you make a lot of money on the backs of fans, so do right by your fans. You can figure out how to spread out a bunch of revenue that you're bringing in, but do right by the people who support you.’”
Obama went on to say he has no interest in getting involved in the dispute.
“I shouldn't have to be involved in a dispute between really wealthy players and even wealthier owners,” he said. “They should be able to settle this themselves. And remember who it is that's putting all that money in their pockets."
That would be the millions of hockey fans who have turned out in record numbers since the NHL last drove over a fiscal cliff in 2004-05.
This time around, there is not a salary cap to fight over. It’s three seemingly minor details that are getting in the way of an agreement.
- The owners want a 10-year CBA with a mutual option to re-open talks after eight years. The players want an 8-year deal with an option after Year 6.
- The owners want a five-year limit on all player contracts, with the exception of allowing teams to sign their own free agents to a maximum seven-year deals. The players say they will accept an eight-year max on contracts.
- The owners want all individual player contracts to stay within a 5 percent variance from year to year. The players say they’ll accept a 25 percent variance.
Last week NHL owners increased their “make whole” provision from $211 million to $300 million but commissioner Gary Bettman said it was on the condition the players accept all aspects of their proposal.
“It wasn't much of a decision,” free-agent forward Brendan Morrison said of the players’ decision to reject the offer. “I thought the gap would be closed much quicker, but it hasn't come to fruition yet, so we have to keep working.”
That work will continue today and possibly through the weekend, but it likely will come without Gary Bettman and Don Fehr in the same room. The two have not sat down face-to-face since last week, when Bettman accused Fehr of not wanting to make a deal.
With time ticking away, don’t be surprised if players start urging Fehr to conduct a vote of the league’s 700-plus-member union on what appears to be the owners’ final offer.