We now know Bettman has told the NHLPA that a deal has to be consummated in time to open training camps on Jan. 12 and start the season on Jan. 19, a timeline similar to the lockout shortened 1994-95 season.
"We want to be back on the ice as soon as possible," was part of the statement issued from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly on Friday.
But why did the league wait until now? Why not in late November, when there still was time to save the Winter Classic? Imagine all the revenue lost from that showcase game and all Christmas gift sales on NHL merchandise.
I'll admit I don't understand all the nuances (or the nuisances) in the art of negotiating. But I do understand the concept of last call. And, in hindsight, so does NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr.
Fehr and the players knew from the outset that they would be the only ones in this so-called collective bargaining exercise who would be making concessions. They had plenty more to lose than the owners. The only concession the owners have offered has been to increase their revenue sharing pool to $200 million from $150 million.
Fehr kept counseling his players to be patient and wait out the NHL's bombast. The offers will continue to get better, Fehr said.
There's that fiscal cliff thing in the United States. Well, there is a cliff in the NHL lockout, too. Bettman admitted as much when he stated earlier this month that anything less than a 48-game schedule would not fly this time around.
Snapping the silence
Whether Bettman was motivated by the players' threat to file a disclaimer of interest by the Jan. 2nd deadline or because, as Ottawa Sun columnist Bruce Garrioch reported on Friday, the commissioner was being pressured by the owners to avoid a second cancelled season, he sweetened the NHL's latest offer sent on Thursday.
This offer has restarted talks again after two weeks of silence. On Friday, Fehr held a conference call with the NHLPA's negotiating committee and executive board to go over the small improvements to the league's latest offer.
There will be a series of fact-finding conference calls between the NHL and NHLPA on Saturday to clarify the points within the league's 300-page proposal. Then, in all likelihood, the two sides will meet face-to-face in New York on Sunday.
The key will be whether the players will be allowed to negotiate off the critical elements on the league's latest offer.
I don't see a problem with the players' view of player contracts being capped at six years, up from five, and an option for teams to sign their own players to seven-year deals. The players wanted status quo on this: unlimited term.
I also believe the increase the contract value variance increase to 10% instead of 5% should be satisfactory. This means a player's salary cannot change up or down by more than 10 per cent from the first season of the contract.
But I'm not sure players will be excited that teams "come into compliance" with a $60-million salary cap for the 2013-14 season, in which each team will be allowed a compliance buyout that will not be charged against the team's salary cap, but will come out of the players' share.
How the players react this time around ownership's "make whole" provision to provide $300-million to help cover existing contracts also will be interesting. It was something the owners took off the table earlier this month.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is last call. The lights have flickered. But whether we will be raising a glass to the start of a season next month remains to be seen.
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