By Stu Hackel
We’re updating this blog post throughout the weekend with major developments, so check back every so often.
We wrote earlier this week that the time has come for a change in the way in which the league handles its labor relations, that it has been too confrontational and combative for too long and no good can come from that. What is — and isn’t — going on in these CBA negotiations demonstrates the bankruptcy of the NHL’s way of doing business with its players.
UPDATE (Sat. 4:45 PM): A cautious, tentative optimism has replaced the angry mood that marked the talks heading into the weekend. It appears that as a result of discussions late Friday and today (Saturday), the league and players are starting to melt both their bargaining gap and their frosty relations. Various source have said that while the outstanding issues — including the salary cap for next season, the maximum length of individual contacts, the player pension and the term of the CBA itself – have not been resolved, the sides are moving somewhat closer to each other.
Whatever progress has been made — and that is still up in the air — a good deal of the credit has to go to Beckenbaugh, who has diligently kept at it to the point where negotiators have again been meeting face-to-face on Saturday afternoon at the NHLPA’s midtown Manhattan hotel. Beckenbaugh’s mediation is not the only factor, of course.
Another significant impetus certainly has to be the NHLPA’s vote to re-institute the right of their executive committee to disclaim interest. That vote concludes at 6 PM and it is a certainty the membership will grant that right, which has given the players some leverage since the threat of dissolving the union could potentially lead to anti-trust litigation against the owners — and treble damages if a court found in the players’ favor. Whether or not the PA uses this weapon is an open question, and it it very much contingent on how much real progress has been made in the talks.
A third reason for a different mood on Saturday is that both sides do want the season to go forward. The owners want to reopen for business (especially those who have paid huge guaranteed signing bonuses to players but have not had any income to offset them) and players want to play and stop missing paychecks. It has been said by the league that the deadline to get a deal done is the end of next week, although we’ve seen deadlines move before. During the lockout of ’94 it happened often.
The caution comes in because we’ve seem progress before come to a screeching halt numerous times over the last few months. Will more lines be drawn in the sand? Does more brinksmanship await? That’s been the nature of these talks and no one should be surprised if it happens again. As The Sporting News Jesse Spector tweeted, “Are the NHL and NHLPA close to a deal? Absolutely. This was also true Wednesday. And last month.”