Oldfield: Why an NHL deal could be near

After this weekend's marathon meeting between Bill Daly and Steve Fehr, and the promise of more talks to come, veteran labour negotiator Dan Oldfield sees signs that an NHL labour deal could be in the offing.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, left, and deputy Bill Daly must recognize the need to strike while the iron is hot, writes our labour expert. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Here’s my prediction: an NHL deal is in the offing.

We've heard that the No. 2 guys in the NHL and the NHLPA, Bill Daly and Steve Fehr, held a "marathon" bargaining session this weekend. We also learned there are plans to bring the parties together for more formal talks this week. What does that mean?

I’ll be bold here and say it means a deal is inevitable.

One can only believe that a marathon session (with several breaks) means that Daly and Fehr had something to talk about and they were clearly checking compass directions with other key players. More than that, there obviously is reason to return to the table. They would not be doing this merely to restate positions already well known to each other.

This is how negotiations usually work. Small meetings, off the record and out of the public’s glare, allow real discussion to take place and real solutions to be canvassed.

Sure, a lot can go wrong from here. The devil is always in the details, and there are dozens and dozens of details.

However, when an agreement is emerging on the big-ticket items, there is a much greater willingness to deal/compromise on less divisive issues. No one wants to see an apparent deal blown up by provisions that can clearly be resolved with a bit of compromise.

No doubt some of these B-list issues will have their advocates, and finding that compromise will not always be easy. This is where leadership and determination are critical — appreciating the need to strike while the iron is hot and to get this done as quickly as possible.

This week's sessions could well determine whether there will be an NHL season. The cost of coming close without getting a deal done usually means there is longer and more severe entrenchment.

But these guys know that. It isn’t their first time at the bargaining table, and no doubt they will be feeling considerable pressure from their stakeholders to bring the dispute to an end.

That's why I believe a deal could be close.

Dan Oldfield is the lead negotiator for the Canadian Media Guild, a former journalist, and a longtime hockey fan.