The NHL and NHLPA met on Friday to discuss all other aspects pertaining to the current CBA negotiations not connect to the core economic issues at the heart of the current lockout and the good news is that progress was made.
On the table Friday were health and safety issues, drug testing and training staffs. The afternoon session was set to possibly discuss issues with the playoffs and offseason. The positive vibes were hinted at by those at the meetings, although they would not discuss the actual specifics of the current negotiations.
"You would absolutely hope that things progress and kind of catch fire, but right now we're just going to take it one step at a time and try to come to an agreement on as many issues as possible," said Mathieu Schneider, an NHLPA special assistant. "We're taking baby steps right now."
Friday marked the beginning of the first formal negotiating session between the two sides since the lockout began on Sept. 16, with the NHL and NHLPA set to negotiate throughout the weekend. While the fundamental differences that led to the lockout won't be discussed, the fact that progress was made at all on any issue can be considered a good sign for things moving forward.
"It says that both sides are committed to getting back to the table and working," Schneider said. He would hesitate, however, to say that anything had actually been agreed upon. "We like to say that nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to, but we've certainly made some headway. A lot of it was done previous to this morning. We're taking notes of where we stand. I would say that we have a lot of mutual ground that we have found agreement on."
Discussions of the core economics of the CBA are not currently scheduled for this weekend, although neither side has said such negotiations won't happen. It's expected that such negotiations will not happen until another proposal is put forth by the NHLPA, which Bill Daly says is key to opening talks up again around the economic issues.
"I'll reserve judgment on my sense of ‘optimism' (or not) until we see how our meetings unfold," Daly told the Associated Press. "Ultimately, we have to meet and talk to make a deal. But until we make progress and see some compromise from the Union of their economic position, we won't be going anywhere fast."
Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com had a very interesting article earlier this week, noting that compromise between the two sides is certainly far from an impossibility. When you get down to it, while it seems both sides are miles apart on the issues, the differences may not be as divided as we might think.
Haggerty feels that while the players will refuse to budge on accepting less than the $1.87 billion in salaries they received last season, there's a way to get the economics to a point where both the NHL and NHLPA would be happy:
But the players should have some give on potential escrow to start the new collective bargaining agreement, and be willing to tie a little of their money up in guaranteed growth/profits from the league. If the NHL were to agree to slight cost-of-living raises of 2-3 percent each year while growth continues at 6-7 percent then the players' percentage of HRR would eventually drop to 50 percent over the course of a lengthy new CBA starting with a 53 percent slice of the pie this season. If the league blows up into a revenue monster over the next 5-10 years then the NHL owners could make plenty of dough in this kind of arrangement.
He also notes that the players will likely have to compromise on the length of entry level contracts, with the NHL wanting four-year contracts meant to slow down the amount of massive deals young players are receiving just three years after being drafted. Teams are finding it harder and harder to hang onto the young players they drafted and developed, with so many demanding massive extensions once they hit their first RFA status.
The big news on the meetings this weekend, and an issue that will certainly be discussed, is the nature of player discipline and suspensions. There's no hiding the fact that the arbitrary nature of NHL discipline has made this aspect of the league perhaps the biggest joke of all, even with Brenden Shanahan taking over those duties this past season.
Reportedly, the NHLPA is seeking a big change to discipline procedures, with players asking for the maximum $2,500 fine for on-ice infractions to be raised. The goal here would be to have hefty fines take the place of suspensions, where players lose significant game checks with each suspension along with costing their teams valuable games with each arbitrary suspension.
The regular season is set to begin on Oct. 11 and there is a feeling that, even with progress possibly being made this weekend, we'll see the first batch of games get canceled by the beginning of next week. At the very least, however, the hope is that positive negotiations on their peripheral issues will lead to some actual progress on the core issues that are keeping us away from the sport we love.