The league and players' association won't be meeting today after all, but a negotiating session scheduled for 7AM Pacific Time tomorrow might prove to be the most crucial one yet. The PA is expected to present a new proposal to ownership and speculation has been that it could lead to substantive talks between the two sides if the players give way on HRR% and the owners cede contracting rights.
While those points, as well as the fate of a "Make Whole" provision for existing contracts, remain contentious, Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star released a list of CBA amendments the sides actually agree on:
• Change the free agent calendar, meaning the market would open on June 15 or 48 hours after the awarding of the Stanley Cup — the players want whichever is later — instead of July 1. Arbitration dates may change as well.
• Allow cap space to be included in transactions, to encourage trades and get teams out from under heavy contracts.
• A joint health committee.
• Eliminate re-entry waivers.
• A neutral, third-party arbitrator to deal with appeals for on- and off-ice discipline.
• Minimum roster requirements to avoid situations where teams dress fewer than 18 players to save salary cap room.
Reporters up north routinely complain about having to cover free agent signings on Canada Day so maybe the sides agreed to have contracts expire two weeks early to satisfy Bruce Garrioch and Steve Simmons. It's not something of great importance either way, although a June 15th free agent frenzy day would really clutter up the league's June schedule, severely disadvantage teams that make the Stanley Cup Finals in retaining their talent and potentially make draft floor deals somewhat more scarce.
The other amendments seem to make more sense, especially ending the nonsense that was Gary Bettman hearing appeals of decisions made by his own employee Brendan Shanahan. The concept of trading cap space was covered well by Greg Wyshynski earlier in the offseason and, at least in theory, could even the playing field for smaller markets. McGran also details the aspects of a potential new CBA the sides have moved closer together on but have yet to reach an agreement:
• Entry-level contracts. The league still wants two-year limits. A club option on a third year is a sticking point.
• AHL salaries. The league is offering to count only those that exceed the NHL minimum ($525,000) against a team’s cap. The NHL had wanted the number closer to $95,000. The victory for the PA here is that AHL players won’t have their salaries count against the players’ share of hockey-related revenue. Accounting would be limited to players in the NHL.
• Unrestricted free agency. The league is offering freedom after eight years of service or age 28, after asking for 10 years. This year, players could become free agents after seven years of service, or age 27.
• Maintaining salary arbitration, but with eligibility pushed back to a player’s fifth season. The players are asking for arbitration after four years. The NHL initially wanted it abolished.
Contracting rights remain pseudo-sticking points, with some taking precedence over others, but indications have been that the league is willing to cave on the issue as a whole if the players give up a larger piece of the hockey-related revenue pie. This report doesn't contradict that as the two sides appear to be extremely close to having an agreement.
What's partially infuriating but equally grounds for optimism about a season being played is how close the two sides are financially compared to what they're losing simply by cancelling games. As James Mirtle lays out phenomenally, the standing offers by the NHL and PA represent a $128 million difference over a five-year span assuming revenue grows at a 5% annual rate. The league claims they've already lost $400 million just with this lockout alone, and that's assuming a season begins on December 1st.
Gary Bettman's comments in October that the two sides were "not speaking the same language" gained infamy. Here's one language we know they both understand: money. It's simply indefensible and, frankly, idiotic for them to be haggling over a smaller pot of revenue than they're currently bleeding by not coming to an agreement and playing hockey. Bettman and Fehr surely realize this and here's hoping a new union proposal that bends even further backwards for the owners will be enough for the NHL to put an end to this madness. Good thing it will have only cost us 326 games and a Winter Classic to settle an argument that should have been decided months ago.