Time for NHL to replace rhetoric with a deal

Time for NHL to replace rhetoric with a deal
December 11, 2012, 1:15 pm
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Just when you thought it was time to throw dirt on the grave of the NHL comes news that representatives from the league and the players’ union will meet on Wednesday at an undisclosed location.

Here’s hoping it’s not Gary Bettman and Don Fehr converging on a street corner.

With time truly their enemy, the NHL and its players’ association have reached their 11th hour in negotiations for a new CBA. If the two sides cannot come to an agreement before Christmas, it’s a safe bet the league will shut its doors until October 2013, at the earliest.

Wednesday’s negotiating session will be the first since talks imploded on Thursday after Bettman flatly rejected Fehr’s attempt at a counter-proposal to the owners’ “yes or no” offer. Following that rejection, which was delivered via text message from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly to NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr, Bettman accused the union of not wanting to strike a deal, then authorized the cancellation of 16 more days of hockey, through Dec. 30.

Bettman has indicated the NHL could have no shorter than a 48-game season, the same number of games that comprised the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.

Since the start of the lockout, many believed the owners wanted an abbreviated season to start no later than Jan. 1 and there remains hope the NHL can begin play on New Year’s Eve, when Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals are scheduled to visit Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. To do that, the owners and players would need a deal in place by the end of this week or early next.

Before that can happen, the players and owners need to settle three key sticking points: the length of the new CBA, the maximum length of player contracts, and how the NHL’s “make whole” provision is distributed.

The owners are seeking a 10-year term on the new CBA, while the players want eight years with an opt-out after six. Daly said last week that the five-year maximum on player contracts is a hill the owners will die on, and that seems like a foolish stand for the players to take. How the NHL distributes to players its proposed $300 million in “make whole” provisions is the third sticking point that could slow negotiations, but not end them.

In short, the NHL and it players are closer to making a deal now than at any point in the negotiations, which is why losing an entire season would be, in the words of Capitals veteran Jason Chimera, “absurd.”