By Stu Hackel
If the CBA negotiations are a dance, let's all do The Grind.
The long grind of the lockout, now in its third month, is replacing the long grind of the NHL regular season and there's no end in sight. Oh, it could end if the NHLPA capitulated entirely or the owners offered inducements so the deal provided the players with at least some upside compared to the previous CBA. Neither seems to be happening at the moment and, unless additional compromises ensue, we'll be left to witness this evolving train wreck in slow motion, day by day.
The damage is piling up -- the league's sponsorship for next season with Kraft being the latest casualty -- and at times the simmering mess boils over into open hostility, the latest manifestations of which were Kris Versteeg calling Gary Bettman and Bill Daly "cancers" and someone producing hats for the locked out players to wear that read "Puck Gary." Words and gestures like that don't really help matters and reflect badly on the players as a whole -- a group that has historically been the best ambassadors in all of sports. However, as Eric Duhatschek wrote in The Globe and Mail, bad behavior during lockouts is not new.
With the sour smell of frustration in the air, the sides met on Monday night -- the first time in 10 days -- for another try at progress. “The meeting was requested by the union and it’s their agenda," Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said prior to the session. "We will see what they have to tell us.”
What the players wanted to discuss was contracting rights, but the owners cut the dialogue short, insisting that any negotiation of those rights could only proceed once the parties settled their disagreement on the split of revenue. Well, so much for "their meeting, their agenda."
Ninety minutes later, the players delegation departed the NHL offices with a homework assignment to consider -- the owners' request that they'd like to see a comprehensive written proposal from the PA that addresses the core economics and the contracting rights.
[UPDATE: The PA will return with their homework on Wednesday.]
Here's Don Fehr after the meeting.
And here's Bill Daly afterward.
(And before going any further, praise is due to NHL.com, which has been a surprisingly fair source of information throughout the lockout. In 2004-05, the league spun off a part of its site to feed a one-sided view of things to fans, but this time out, stories from NHL.com have generally played it straight down the middle. It's been a minimalist approach, but with no agenda driving it, presenting stories which chronicle what was said by both sides along with unedited video, like that of Daly above; spokesmen from both sides, not just the league, are presented.)
So in Daly's video, he remarks, "(The NHLPA said) they've moved significantly in our direction on economics, we pushed them a little on that to understand where they are on economics and I don't think we got any more clarity on that. So we asked, it's our position that we've made a couple comprehensive proposals in a row. We'd like to know where they are on all of the issues and we asked them to think about putting together a comprehensive proposal for us to consider."
Asked if the league has told the PA that it would be willing to move on the contracting issues if the union moved on the economics, Daly responded, "We do think they're related, and we want to see where we are and how close we might be on economics before necessarily tackling exactly where we are on player contracting."
Was that a very cautious, stylized answer in the affirmative? Tough to say.
TSN reported, "A source close to the negotiations says there now seems to be a sense of urgency coming from the players and indications are the NHLPA is preparing a series of 'give and take' proposals. If the NHLPA's series of proposals materializes and addresses some concerns, talks on contract issues will pick up."
And maybe a reported change in the mood of ownership, if true, might have softened the owners as well.
So the grind continues, as it must. The alternative, not talking at all or blowing up the season entirely, is on some minds, but taking those steps would be an affront to everyone -- players, owners, fans -- unless every last effort is expended to make a deal.
We're nowhere near that yet and it's quite unclear how near we are to an agreement. That's what doin' the grind is all about.
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