NEW YORK — They’re taking their time, but the NHL and NHLPA are finally getting into the meat of negotiations — revenue sharing and the much-discussed "make-whole" provision.
Slow and unpredictable was how one insider described Wednesday’s five-and-half hour session. Progress may be difficult to discern but the sides have agreed to meet again today, setting a record for consecutive sessions in this lockout at three.
For the second straight day at an undisclosed location in Manhattan, negotiating teams including NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Don Fehr sat across from one another and bargained.
Once again there was no media availability, as the league and union have determined they’re better off focusing their engergies on bargaining rather than playing the public relations game.
"The NHLPA and the NHL met today to discuss many of the key issues. We look forward to resuming talks tomorrow," was all Fehr had to say after talks finished for the day.
League Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly was equally tight-lipped saying "The National Hockey League’s negotiating committee met with representatives of the National Hockey League Players’ Association for approximately 5-1/2 hours today. Meetings are scheduled to resume tomorrow. We do not intend to comment on the substance or subject matter of today’s negotiations."
Fine. The lockout isn’t a spectator sport. Getting a deal is all that counts.
After meeting for barely more than a few hours all summer, the last two days have seen the parties in the same room for a total of 13 hours.
No, there hasn’t been a pronouncement of rapid movement. But they finally have shovels in their hands, rather than megaphones.
Really, we’ve all heard enough of the nattering. It’s been childish at its worst and counter-productive at its best. All the Twitter talk and snarky sound bites have done nothing to move this process along.
Wednesday may have been Day 53 of the lockout but it was only Day 2 of negotiations.
With neither side talking much after meeting stretched well into the night, fresh information was difficult to cull. There were, however, a few tidbits circulating.
Make-whole negotiations began on Wednesday but didn’t get far. Expect today’s talks to revolve around make-whole, with three likely outcomes:
The players could accept the NHL’s proposal on this issue, which would likely lead to new CBA; the two sides could agree they have a starting point to begin negotiating; or the players could deem the NHL’s concept unacceptable and put talks back in a holding pattern.
The "make-whole" provision is a mechanism that will guarantee players get the bulk of the dollar amounts set out in previously signed contracts, despite their share of hockey related revenue dropping from 57 per cent to 50.
The players want the owners to pay for this gap and not draw it out of future player revenue.
The sides appear to have also reached a soft agreement on the issue of contract lengths.
The NHL hates the long, backdiving contracts that were structured entirely to circumvent the salary cap. The accepted deterrent will be a mandated five per cent variance from year-to-year on contracts. If a player makes figure A in Year 1 of a contract it can’t go up or down by more than five per cent from year to year.
So, no more making $10 million for a few years early on in the deal and then $1 million for a bunch of artificial seasons at the end of a contract.
The two sides have established their positions on issues such as age of free agency, arbitration and entry level contracts.
Once the make-whole issue is cleared up they can circle back to contracting and use the give and take on the former to lead to concessions.
In other words, if one side gives a lot to get the make-whole process concluded, the other will be expected to provide room on the contracting issues.
It’s grind time. Hockey fans understand it’s not always the most exciting portion of a hockey game, but it’s required to achieve victory.
Same goes here.