September 12, 2012; New York, NY, USA; NHLPA executive director Don Fehr during a press conference at the 2012 NHLPA summer player meetings at the Marriott Marquis. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

Illegal Check To The Head: Will The Lockout Ever End?

There is nothing quite like an illegal check straight to the head, is there? Just ask Sidney Crosby. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Well, that is sure what this lockout is starting to feel like.

Apr 4, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; General view of Tampa Bay Times Forum in preparation for the 2012 Frozen Four. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

The National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association sat down once more on Sunday to further discuss the parameters of this never-ending Collective Bargaining Agreement.

This session, held at the League’s Manhattan office, was approximately 90 minutes long and focused on player-contracting issues. This has been a sticking point in the discussions since day one.

Some of the discussion points in the meeting were maximum contract length, variance on year-to-year salary within a contract, length of entry level deals, salary arbitration, and the timeline for restricted and unrestricted free agency.

It would seem that we are still trapped in another round of a schoolyard argument. Both sides feel that it is the other side who should change their view, and neither seems willing at this point to allow much give for their opponent.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly had this to say on the matter,

I think it is fair to say while there was a candid discussion on those issues and each side explained their position to the other, I don’t think there was any progress on any of those issues. We had substantially revised our player-contracting proposals over the course of the summer and in the offer we made to the players to save the 82-game season. We had limited them to what we consider very few tweaks to the system that we think will make the system better, will help us grow revenues in our view and obviously should heighten player salaries over time. Those are important issues to us. We’ve communicated that from Day One to the Players’ Association.

I would have hoped during the course of the past week they would have shown some movement on those issues toward us, knowing what our fundamental concerns are. And the message we basically got this week was, ‘We know what your contracting proposals are and we’re not prepared to agree to them.’ From my perspective, we have some proposals on the table and the response at least at this point is, ‘We can’t accept them.’ That does leave us in a difficult place.”

The League and the Players’ Association have been without a Collective Bargaining Agreement since September 16th.

On Saturday, after four straight days of negotiations, Bill Daly, NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr, and Los Angeles Kings forward Kevin Westgarth had what they called an “informal lunch” where they discussed many of these same issues.

On Sunday, they returned to a much more formal setting with both NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr joining the discussion.

While discussing the NHL’s Player-Contracting Proposals, Fehr had this to say,

“From the beginning, it is sort of been, ‘We want it, because that is our view of the world and we’d like to have it,’ It just shifts all the risks against the players. It flies in the face of something really important. Players have two interests here. Interest No. 1 is how big the [players'] share is and that’s not agreed upon yet either but the parties have at least moved on that. The second one is how does an individual player negotiate his piece of the pie, and the answer is that players will have vastly fewer rights, vastly less leverage for a vastly longer portion of their career under the NHL proposal.”

As is expected, Daly disagreed with Fehr’s assertion that the League is unwilling to negotiate on specific contract issues; however, he also made it quite clear that this portion of the CBA is very important to the NHL Clubs.

Daly responded,

We think the system will operate better. Obviously, I think everyone knows that we’ve had concerns for a while about contracts that we feel are circumvention of the system and the cap and certainly that is definitely an issue we need to clean up. The other issue is allocating more dollars to more established players. That has been an important issue for us from Day One. It is something we hear from our general managers regularly. They believe they are forced to make talent assessments too early in a player’s career, and it would be better for the game and their teams and the product and ultimately the revenues of the product if they could make those decisions a little later in a player’s career. We’re talking about one year, guys — we’re not talking about moving heaven and earth.”

Representative from both sides were present in Toronto today for the Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Both Daly and Fehr expect a discussion on future negotiating sessions.

As I have said many times before, I have tried my absolute hardest to stay positive in the darkness that has become this Lockout, but as each day passes by my hope grows dimmer and dimmer. I fear that it will not be long before the light is extinguished all together.

Speaking of optimism, Daly had this to say:

I always like to look at the glass half full and not half empty, so I like to be optimistic,”

He continued:

I don’t know exactly where they are on economics. I hope we’re getting closer in that regard. With respect to these issues, they are important issues and we heard from the players how important it is to them today. They heard from us how important they are to the clubs, but they are not a lot (of issues). If we can find some way to address our concerns on these issues, we can move this process forward.”

I sincerely hoped that after four straight days of discussions that the two sides were starting to get serious about hammering out the dents in their (dis)agreement, but it seems almost as if the discussions have taken a step backward. From where I stand, all I see is that the players want what they want, and the League wants what they want. The real challenge is going to be finding the soft patch of grass in the middle where they can meet and make some meaningful progress.

As I have said, almost ad-nauseam, until both sides realize that they are going to have to bend a little, there is going to be no meaningful progression. Both sides pose valid arguments. The players are asking for what they were promised. This is part of the “Make Whole” provision that seems to be a line in the sand for the NHL. At the same time, the League wants more of the Hockey Related Revenue, in which it feels will give them more room to operate the club at an efficient standard and secure the future of the League.

I don’t know quite where this middle ground is located, but they had better find it soon. As the days pass, the likelihood of the ice being occupied this season is disappearing fast.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the negotiations? What do you think is going to have to happen before meaningful progress is made? Please feel free to sound off in the comments. Let your voice be heard.

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