Remember last week, when negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA collapsed? Don Fehr gave a press conference, saying the two sides were close, then came back and said that talks had broken off, and then Gary Bettman gave what was likely the angriest media availability of his NHL tenure, insisting that the owner’s offer of $300 million in “make whole” payments was now off the table.
The two sides met on Wednesday, and despite the rhetoric seem not to have moved much at all from their positions during the ‘owners/players only’ meetings.
Here is how Nick Kypreos characterized today’s discussion, which included federal mediators:
— Nick Kypreos (@RealKyper) December 12, 2012
The “no progress” isn’t surprising. The rest of it is surprising only for those who continue to take the league at their word, rather than cultivating the skepticism necessary to evaluate public statements by either side during this collective bargaining process.
The good news for those hoping to see an immediate end to the dispute is that the two sides are close. Had the league really walked away from their last offer, it is unlikely that negotiations would continue; the NHLPA would be highly unlikely to accept a worse offer from the league later on. The battle now is over items like the term of the CBA, how long players can be signed for and how much year-to-year variance there should be, and dividing the negative financial effects of the lockout between the two parties, as well as the mechanics of transitioning (i.e. how will teams with lots of players under contract survive in a world with a smaller salary cap?).
The negotiations to cover the last gaps between the two sides will not be easy. The NHLPA will likely offer more; the membership pretty clearly wants to play and the gap between the two sides is not large. The league, despite their “take it or leave it” offer, will probably move as well. There will undoubtedly be those who suggest that the league is serious this time, but given that every other time the NHL has said something like “take it or leave it” or “this offer is now off the table” or “offers will get worse as we start seeing revenues damaged” they’ve done the opposite, there’s no reason to believe that this time they’re telling the truth.
The end is in sight. The players’ rejection of the league’s last offer has not set the process back, which means that the league wants a deal. Judging by comments from NHLPA members, the players want one quickly, too. Barring sudden, irrational stubbornness on the part of ownership or a shift in the NHLPA membership in favour of the courts rather than collective bargaining, it’s just a matter of time now.