Nerves frayed as NHL negotiations intensify | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaNerves frayed as NHL negotiations intensify

Posted: Thursday, December 6, 2012 | 10:07 AM

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Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, right, and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly talk at the Westin Times Square on Wednesday. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, right, and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly talk at the Westin Times Square on Wednesday. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Both the NHL and NHL Players' Association are seriously committed to trying to reach terms on a new collective bargaining agree. But it's isn't easy because they've waited so long to get real.

NEW YORK -- Optimistic. Pessimistic. Cannibalistic. Everyone wants to know the mood.

How about this. For the first time in this epic fail of a process, both the NHL and NHL Players' Association are seriously committed to trying to get this done. But it's not going to be easy, really not going to be easy, because they've waited so long to get real.

At Wednesday's NHL board of governors meeting in midtown Manhattan, league commissioner Gary Bettman warned those in attendance that saying anything could ruin a delicate negotiation. Bettman himself gave a media conference that you could basically fit into one tweet.

Players are similarly silent. There were many text messages with a variation of "We're making slow progress, but it's best not to say anything."

Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey's post-meeting statement barely lasted as long as a high-school couple on prom night. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly's wasn't much longer.

In this Twitter-obsessed, instant-analysis world, all of us need to know what's happening RIGHT NOW. This isn't that simple. There are positive signs, as, before the board get-together, one governor said: "This meeting is going to be completely different than many of us expected," due to Tuesday's lengthy bargaining sessions.

But just because the "new" owners inside the room and their counterparts across the table are more willing to find common ground doesn't mean it's going to be easy.

There was an animated conversation in a hallway between Daly and Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs witnessed by reporters. Daly reportedly talked Jacobs out of leaving the meetings following a verbal confrontation with Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller.

Miller, reached by email, said: "Really? I don't have any recollection of that or why [Jacobs'] opinion would be that."

They're working at it, they're trying but...

There are still issues to sort out, some with powerful emotional attachment. For example, every single player here in New York City will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of their contract. There are no restricted free agents-to-be here, at least under the previous rules.
While some of them are signed for a long time -- Sidney Crosby, Brad Richards, Shane Doan -- eight will be on the market within two years and 13 within three. Think individual contracting rights aren't important to them?

As for the owners, they were told to expect a 50-something-game season, which has several ramifications. While each sponsor has its own individual deal, several reports indicate that playing 75 per cent of the NHL's schedule is considered a "full" season (individual team sponsorships can be even more complicated). Any amount of games that starts with a five, as in 50, is less than 75 per cent.

Smaller traps, too

That affects a lot of what the league is willing to offer, from "make-whole" to length of a new collective bargaining agreement's term. One of the reasons you're hearing so much about the NHL desiring a 10-year agreement (with an out after eight years) is that it needs to rebuild trust in the business community.

There are smaller traps, too. For example, Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox reported there is a discussion about playing games on Christmas Day. There are some concerns from teams about what happens with revenue-sharing if the Canadian dollar drops to late-1990s levels.

With "make-whole," there were reports last night (one of them mine) that the NHL upped its offer from $211 million to $300 million. That's closer to the NHLPA's last known request of $393 million. But later, there was a catch -- that $50 million of it would be for pension funding. That's a tricky one and sure to annoy the players. Here's why:

Due to differing pension laws in the United States and Canada, players based in the U.S. can receive approximately $20,000 more per year in tax-free contributions from their clubs. It's a nice little selling point for the American squads because if you play north of the 49th, you lose a good chunk of that difference to taxes. Not every player is a multi-millionaire, so that future protection really means something.

Fork out extra 

The Canadian teams, some of which will be major revenue-sharing payees, don't like that they have to fork out extra (without tax protection) to bridge that gap. One executive pegged that cost at approximately $400,000 per year.

They want protection, which is to be part of that $50 million. But the players see it as, "That's our money already, so why should it even be included in make-whole?"

The two sides were expected to caucus Thursday morning before returning to the bargaining table some time around noon. We've had two long days. Nerves are frayed. But for the first time in this process, we have serious effort.

Anyone who thought this would roll along easily without any flare-ups was naive. Whatever happened between Miller and Jacobs, they're still here.

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