1. Mediator Scot Beckenbaugh is back in the picture. This is interesting because the last mediation session -- held in New Jersey three weeks ago -- was such a dismal failure. Commissioner Bettman said both sides requested Beckenbaugh's presence, and he has asked the NHL and the NHLPA to be back in the league's Manhattan offices by 10 am (ET) Thursday.
Beckenbaugh's presence signals two things, I think: the two sides want to make a deal, but are having a difficult time finding common ground at this point. They're hoping he can help.
2. The players did not file their "Disclaimer of Interest." My guess is that Donald Fehr would've wanted to do it. You look at his history and don't see a guy who brandishes a weapon, then doesn't use it. I don't think his constituents were worried about an angry NHL reaction.
They've ignored those threats before, and successfully so.
But, not using this weapon in this case is consistent with how a lot of his players feel -- if negotiations are moving somewhere, let's keep going in good faith.
They would need to re-vote to go down this road again, and reports afterwards indicated if there is a next time, they would use this tactic. They'll have to or it becomes a hollow threat.
Walking back to my hotel, though, I was struck by how Bettman handled this. He basically said he'd never heard the union use the word disclaimer and wondered why it came up. I've seen him use that method of answering a question before. It comes when he's annoyed at a media question and wonders where the idea came from, even if we've all heard it before.
I may be overthinking this one -- it is 2:35 am as I write this -- but I don't think he was mad at the question. I think he was trying in his own way to thank the players for not doing it.
The idea he's never heard the union philosophize about "disclaiming," or its older, sexier sister, "decertifying," is nonsensical. The league's own pre-emptive legal strike listed example after example of players discussing it.
So why answer it like that? I think he was trying to say the players never made it an issue in Wednesday's talks and he appreciated it -- because that could have damaged a fragile process.
3. Pensions. Bettman: "We understand it is important to the players and if we get the issues resolved we hope we can satisfy the players on that issue."
The players are steamed about this one, especially since it looked like the two sides already agreed on the pension package. The owners are concerned about who covers shortfalls and what happens after this whenever-signed-CBA is over. The players felt the league went back on a promise to split that risk, a change that may cost them double what they'd expected.
People watching from afar were stunned by the idea this could derail the process, but the NHLPA had a high collective annoyance factor on this one. The commissioner also sounded conciliatory on this topic.
Is it possible the league will concede on this one for a "get" somewhere else?
4. Moving closer. Both Bettman and Fehr agreed that there was some progress but a lot of major work remained. Fehr said the core economic issues continue to be a problem. People will get excited about the idea of progress, but what that says is any movement in the right direction was likely on smaller stuff.
There are still wide gulfs when it comes to the most important issues, including salary cap for 2013-14 (owners want $60 million US, players $65M). We all want to get excited, but the highest hurdles remain unconquered.
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