In the latest edition of our 5 Questions series, we tackle more NHL labour issues, including the impact that a potential lower salary cap could have on Canadian-based clubs.
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1. Is there a hard date by which a deal needs to be reached in order to have a season?
For the first time in this three-month lockout, there appears to be a deadline to get a deal done. In its collective bargaining proposal sent to the players on Dec. 27, the NHL set a Jan. 12 cutoff to open training camps in time for a Jan. 19 start or risk losing the entire season.
This start date would allow the league to proceed with a 48-game regular season, the same length as the delayed 1994-95 campaign.
For this to happen, both sides would need to agree on the terms of the new CBA by Jan. 11.
2. If the salary cap drops to $60 million US, as the NHL reportedly is proposing, which teams would have to shed the most salary to get under the number?
Owners are willing to play under a prorated $70 million cap this season. Under the proposed deal from the league, the salary cap would drop to $60 million next season. Such a cap would severely limit a player's flexibility on where they can play, the NHLPA argues. They are asking for a cap around $65 million.
If the cap does fall to $60 million, NHL general managers will face a lot of tough decisions next season. According to capgeek.com, 11 teams already have more than $50 million committed to salaries for 2013-14, leaving them less than $10 million to fill their rosters.
The Montreal Canadiens are the only team over next year's league-proposed cap, with $60.2 million spent on 16 players. That number doesn't even include what is sure to be GM Marc Bergevin's first priority when the season resumes: signing restricted free-agent defenceman P.K. Subban.
Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis might have the biggest challenge juggling a $60 million cap. With the likes of the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler under contract, the Canucks have $55.4 million committed to 13 players.
The Ottawa Senators look like they are in the best shape of the Canadian teams, with 13 players signed and $20.9 million cap space.
Of course, the above figures come with a caveat. Some of these big salaries might not exist in October. The Habs could buy out Scott Gomez's $7.35 million salary next year, freeing up some cap space to obtain other players.
3. What about players who are still free agents? Will they end up getting less money than they expected?
In terms of high-profile unrestricted free agents, there aren't a lot out there. Players like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed with teams before the start of the lockout.
According to capgeek.com, some of the biggest-name UFAs still seeking employment include Brian Rolston, Kristian Huselius and Mike Knuble.
After the last work stoppage in 2005, free agents found work tougher to find as many general managers opted to use their younger players already under contract. If the salary cap drops to $60 million, expect a similar scenario.
It's not known how a new CBA would affect restricted free agents such as Subban, Ryan O'Reilly and Michael Del Zotto. All three are still highly valued assets on their teams, so a good bet for them is still a healthy pay raise.
4. If there is a settlement, will any exhibition games be played?
It's not known if there will be any exhibition games, but the players are in favour of it.
The league is calling for a 10-day training camp before the start of the season, so there is a small opening for a couple of exhibition games.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said he would like to see two or three pre-season games to help get players prepared for a compressed schedule.
5. Many players are in Europe. Will they have any trouble leaving their teams to rejoin the NHL if a deal is reached?
No. NHL players have an open clause in their contracts allowing them to leave their European clubs.
Actually, the exodus has already begun, with the likes of Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Patrick Kane announcing to their overseas teams during the Christmas break they wouldn't be returning in January.