By Stu Hackel
For the third straight day, representatives of the NHL owners and players reconvened on Wednesday as the NHLPA responded to the league’s most recent proposal, which it received on Tuesday. With the January 11 deal deadline for a reduced 48-game season fast approaching, real, honest, serious negotiations seem to be taking place at last. More are scheduled for Thursday.
UPDATE: The NHLPA made a counter-proposal to the NHL’s Tuesday offer, itself a counter-proposal and the sides met again Wednesday evening to discuss it. There appears to be general agreement on the length of the CBA at 10 years, with an opt-out at eight, a concession by the players, but there are reports the players want some additional stipulations included. There are also reports that the players may agree to the six-year limit on contracts, seven for players re-signing with their own clubs — another concession by the union — but in return they still want pay to vary by 10 percent annually rather than the NHL’s five percent offer.
None of these reports are confirmed and the lack of leaks on both sides would seem to suggest that they are seriously trying to bridge the gap in order to start a 48-game season before Jan. 19. Other important items remain unsettled and one is the salary cap, which the owners want reduced to $60 million annually. The players have reportedly not agreed (and we discussed that provision earlier this week). Another is the size of escrow. Additionally, there are new concerns about the players’ pension plan, which had supposedly been agreed to earlier in the talks but may have been changed in the owners’ proposal. Pat Leonard of The New York Daily News has more on the pension issue here. There is some feeling among the players that ownership has reneged on this item.
There have been very few details on this round of talks, which is seen as a good sign because leaks usually mean discord. The players still had the option until midnight of disclaiming interest in the NHLPA through the union’s executive committee, the quick route to decertification that could throw the process into chaos, if they believe the owners are not negotiating in good faith. On Twitter, ESPN/ TSN’s Pierre LeBrun quoted a player saying, “How they respond to our latest proposal will determine if we disclaim or not.” Even though that option expires at the end of the day, the players could renew that initiative sometime in the future. More on this latest round of talks here from TSN.ca.
UPDATE: The union decided to hold off on the disclaimer. More on that fromTSN.ca.
If you are wondering why a sudden wave of sincerity has washed over the process, which is now beginning its sixth month, you are not alone. These latest talks — which have resulted in three proposals being swapped in six days (UPDATE: now four in seven days) — could and should have taken place months ago had there not been another agenda floating around besides that of getting a fair and equitable agreement.