Three days of CBA negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA had the optimism flowing again, and conventional wisdom said another blow-up was coming ahead of the stretch run leading up to the 11th next week. As Thursday progressed, it appeared that time had come.
The players were upset about an HRR issue understood to be agreed upon required a half day's worth of attention to put right again, and pensions (another topic thought completed) took up the afternoon small-group sessions. To add fuel to the fire the NHLPA commenced a second vote to re-authorize Fehr to disclaim interest in decertification.
To file that disclaimer of interest or not last night, it was revealed today, was entirely up to Don Fehr. He declined, and some have suggested he has advised against it all along, believing in keeping a union intact. It could still be a motivational tool to keep the league's "feet to the fire", however, and it's one they'll have back in their possession by Saturday evening.
Federal mediators were involved with both parties throughout the day, but no formal "large group" sessions were held. Negative reports leaked, but were vague. Players comments to media were few, but most wondered if league was switching positions after Fehr declined to disclaim interest in decertification last night, pulling a "bait and switch."
Still, a true "blow up" never came today, and meetings are expected to continue tomorrow at 10am EST, though formal face-to-face meetings are not guaranteed.
One of the newest wrinkles to come out is one about variance in contract dollar amounts from year to year. The league had proposed a 5% year-to-year variance previously and recently upped that number to 10%, with recent reports suggesting it could go even higher. Elliotte Friedman of HNIC fame then tweeted today that the league wants a 60% minimum variance on multi-year deals, explaining that the "lowest salary of any multi-year deal must be within that amount of the highest."
James Mirtle was not impressed.
League can propose a 95% variance if it wants - if it comes with a 60% minimum year, doesn't matter much what you can vary by.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) January 4, 2013
So either through a minimum year rule, year-to-year variance, or sheer term limit (something not agreed upon yet) the league is going to find a way to all but eliminate cap-circumvention in its current forms.
Friedman also tweeted that the league wants the next CBA to expire in June, rather than in September to limit the rather raucous spending that took place this time around. The players, to the surprise of none, may not like that.
It was rumored late Thursday evening that the players want to offer to keep the floor at $44 million like the owners want (with their desired $60M cap ceiling next year) but with a $65 million ceiling, widening the customary $16 million gap for a single year. There's been no word on how the league would react. The owners have not budged off the $60 million number for the 2013-2014 campaign.
So there is, as always, a very long way to go. One hopes that any number of these things (pensions, second year cap, contract length, variance) might be used together in a compromise or two that gets them where they need to go, as dealing with them separately is proving to be time consuming with two parties as intransigent as these.
The threat of disclaiming interest in decertification will be back as soon as Saturday evening, and a pre-trial conference on the various legal proceedings could start as early as Monday morning according to Sportsnet's Michael Grange. So there's plenty of reason to hurry as always, but little resolve by either party to do so as the game of chicken continues.
Rumors have rumblings of a schedule beginning on January 19th. The Stars had already reserved the AAC for a tilt with the San Jose Sharks that night. Whether or not that happens is still anybody's guess.