Long time Coming, Long Time Gone?

Rich Lam

As the hopeful eyes of a pensive hockey nation turn to New York, our hopes rest on a couple folks who should inspire positive aspects AND fear and loathing...

As many of you who follow me on Twitter might know, I substituted my need for hockey with a healthy interest in the whole "most important election in our lifetime" thing the Americans had going.

Turns out Obama won his second straight Stanley Cup. Glad thats over right?

But don't think for a moment that I was neglecting our erstwhile national obsession. It was fun to watch that whole race, and while its done, its hard not to let just a little bit of positivity seep into the hockey zeitgeist. I am the one that said that the Winter Classic would be the impetus to a deal being done. The announcement recently of that sponsor smorgasbord being shuttered has definitely gotten the principals to take a shot at actually getting a deal done. So, maybe that part was right?

Will it matter? Thats the 64 million dollar question, of course. Let's see if they actually negotiate a deal that gets the season going.

At this point this Canuck fan will take even an asterisk Stanley Cup... ( because, how perfect would it be for the Canucks to finally get what the fans so crave, only to have it have an "asterisk" for CanuckHaterNation to still cling to? )

I don't know about you, but I have built up a pretty decent sized wall around my love for the game of hockey and the team I have chosen. Sometimes the fun and interesting rosterbation of who the Canucks will get back from Toronto just as soon as the deal is done in a Luongo trade is fun. ( As, of course is the most entertaining quasi-confirmed player Twitter follow in the NHL, Strombone1 )

All well and good. As is the many hours of meetings the puck media, having little else to do, are focused on like a laser. One of those, the NBC affiliated ProHockeyTalk ( where Mike Halford is one half of a blogging team done good. There's a reason for that. The Kurtenbloggers still got "it" ) managed to get their hands on a copy of the letter The Fear sent to his side...

Today, we met with the NHL off and on over several hours. A number of matters were discussed, including our proposal for a new pension plan, revenue sharing, the players’ share and salary cap issues, and the owners’ "make whole" concept. Present today were Chris Campoli, Mathieu Darche,Ron Hainsey, Johan Hedberg, Manny Malhotra, and Kevin Westgarth (David Backes was present for part of the day), as well as Mathieu Schneider, Joe Reekie, Steve Webb and Rob Zamuner.

No new proposals were exchanged on pension issues, but we will discuss this issue again tomorrow (Friday). We did receive a proposal on revenue sharing in response to the proposal we made this week, but this subject still needs considerable work.

In addition, we received a revamped proposal covering players’ share and cap issues, their so-called "make whole", and player contracting issues. The owners finally did formally give us their "make whole" idea, which in dollar terms is similar to the discussions Bill Daly had with Steve Fehr a few days ago. While a step forward, a significant gap remains. Moreover, at the same time we were told that the owners want an "immediate reset" to 50/50 (which would significantly reduce the salary cap) and that their proposals to restrict crucial individual contracting rights must be agreed to. As you know, these include – among other things – losing a year of salary arbitration eligibility, allowing the team to file for salary arbitration in any year that the player can file, extending UFA eligibility to age 28 or 8 seasons, limiting contracts to 5 years, and permitting only 5% year to year variability in player contracts. Individually each is bad for players; taken together they would significantly reduce a player’s bargaining power and give the owner much more leverage over a player for most if not all of his career.

In short, the concessions on future salary we have offered (at least $948 Million to $1.25 Billion over five years, depending on HRR growth) are not enough. We are still being told that more salaries must be conceded, and that very valuable player contracting rights must be surrendered. So, while we are meeting again, and while some steps are being taken, there is still a lot of work to be done and bridges to be crossed before an agreement can be made.

We will review today’s discussions over night and tomorrow morning before meeting again with the owners. Following our meeting tomorrow with the league, we will be able to provide a broader update.

As always, please contact us if you have any questions or comments.

Best regards.

Don

So, are we heartened or not? Is this a positive thing that this letter not only got out, but that we can all see it and react to it?

Well, yes, it is. If you read that letter over and pay attention it is, like every good lawyer speak letter, just the facts and not varnished to play to the audience. Those facts show that the NHL is still pushing hard and not really giving much back. But it also shows that they have made some serious good faith movement. The big thing of course the "make whole" aspect. Its pretty self explanatory.

Thats good. Lets get it going, see you in The Big House on Jan 1st. Well, not quite. The details in all the other aspects we kind of forgot as the NHL and Gary let the pick media ponder as they obviously leaked how they thought they were doing to stoke some sense of "Oh, Hockey? Hockey is coming back!!??!!" to get us excited.

But look at the things they are still on without much movement at all, at least as portrayed in the letter. Longer period of arbitration rights ( and more team favoured arbitration rights ), longer period of service before free agency, to say nothing of the sly "5% of variance..." ( which I think means the difference between Superstar A and Superstar B...etc ) and the "looks like they have never moved on it" 5 year maximum contract length. There are obvious real and decisive differences that impinge on my ability to let my defenses down and let my "hockey obsession" run buck wild.

So, lets not get too excited. Yes, they will keep meeting, and with all that there is many more opportunities to get the deal done. It sounds like they both still have the will to get a deal done to save my prediction and give us that shortened season every one of us will probably welcome ( though, like you, I imagine I will have a fair amount of grumbling as we get there. Maybe if Gillis distracts and draws me back in with that immediate big trade I will just dive back into the pool... ;-)...we can only hope. There is definitely enough meat on this bone to give one something to get excited about.

But there is just as much chance for any one of the things being negotiated being a "big deal" for someone. I don't think that will become a season ender unless Gary and Co want that to happen however. Let us never forget that this is a NHL created impasse. For all the spin and counter spin, for me, I am more on the players' side than I was at the beginning of this whole clusterfrugen.

I still think its a childish battle between billionaires and millionaires that I promised myself was not going to drive me batty this time. Perhaps thats because I have been around for a few of these stupid dances. In the end, it has to be the folks that locked out the employees that are responsible for making the whole thing light up again.

Will they? I remain hopeful.

In the meantime, enjoy this... and screw you if you snicker at Tom Jones. This was pre Vegas, and the guy is awesome anyhow!

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