After receiving the NHL's most recent bargaining proposal on Wednesday, the Players' Association promised to return with a counter-proposal this week. Although it was thought they'd have a response on Thursday, it was Friday before we heard from them.
The news isn't good.
You can read what you want into the delay. Good news or bad...these things take time.
But when the PA emerges from its next meeting, listen carefully to the way that response is presented. The most telling element won't necessarily be what Donald Fehr and the players say, but how they say it.
According to Fehr, the players' latest proposal "did not bear fruit."
Negotiations to this point have found few points of traction, but the tone of the talks has been business-like and respectful. Until Wednesday, anyway, when one could sense a little surliness slipping into the dialogue as the calendar grinds closer to Sept. 15.
No surprise that is was Gary Bettman playing the caustic card. Granted, the guy could be up there announcing your name as the newest PowerBall millionaire and he still might rub you the wrong way, but this was more than just the commish being the commish.
He's trying to strike a nerve.
"Somehow there's an entitlement to be at 57 percent," Bettman said Wednesday of the current collective bargain revenue percentage that's allotted to the players. "There is no such entitlement."
No one parses a phrase with greater care than Bettman. So when he uses a loaded word like
Like Brody working the back end of the Orca, he's chumming the waters. He wants to elevate the confrontation. He wants discord.
He wants a lockout. After all, that's the best way to achieve his goal: the best possible deal for the owners.
To his credit, Don Fehr has masked whatever frustration he's feeling with a well-practiced, professorial charm. But surely he has to be tiring of Bettman's approach, particularly his notions that a new formula for determining (i.e. shrinking) Hockey Related Revenue is critical and that escrow is a much more friendly method of dealing with salary overages than rollbacks. It's tough to deal with someone when you're not speaking the same language.
Fehr is proving to be an even-keeled guy. But he's also said that he works for the players, not the other way around. With many of them still bearing scars from 2004, you can sense the increasing fatalism of the rank and file. Reports out of several informal summer skates, the kind that start getting crowded all over North America at this time of year as camps approach, reveal that fewer players are bothering to show up.
You can read what you want into that, too.
If they're spoiling for a fight, it's up to Fehr to express that sentiment. But he has to understand what he's up against. That's why the presentation of this next step will prove telling.
Lots of emails coming in from fans who are wondering about the $58 million salary cap that would be in place under the league's current proposal and the drastic steps their favorite teams would have to take to get under it.
My advice? Take a deep breath and climb off the ledge: That number is just an NHL negotiating point, and about as meaningful as the national TV schedule that was released today (more on that later).
Odds are that new figure is a ceiling that teams will never have to worry about. Until a new agreement is signed, we won't know what the final number will be, or what mechanisms will be put in place to assist teams in getting under it.
Right now the cap is a moving target. Until a mutually agreed upon figure falls below the $70.2 million that teams have been using as a projected ceiling, there's no need to worry about hitting it.
Proving that it is business as usual in some corners, the League went through the charade of announcing its national TV schedule this morning.
Of course, that's the very least the NHL can do to generate a bit of pre-gallows buzz in exchange for the lockout-protected $200 million it will receive from NBC.
The Penguins, Bruins and Red Wings lead with 17 appearances each on either NBC or NBC Sports Network, followed by the Sabres (15), Blackhawks (14) and Rangers and Flyers (13). The Ducks, Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and Islanders avoided the shutout with one appearance each. Of the Canadian teams, only Montreal (5) and Toronto (4) made the cut.
NBC Sports Network will roll games Sunday through Wednesday each week, a generous helping for fans who don't get the Center Ice package (although it also means more blackouts on Center Ice). The cable outlet rolls all season long, with the main network climbing on board for the Thanksgiving Showdown featuring the Bruins and Rangers on Black Friday.
There were some wide eyes when the Oilers announced that they'd extended 2010 first overall pick Taylor Hall with a seven-year, $42 million offer earlier this month, but it's looking like a honey of a deal for Edmonton. Not only do they have a franchise-type player locked up for his prime years, they bought off three years of free agency as well. Chances are that $6 million cap hit will be a bargain by the time those years roll around.
No surprise the deal was quickly held up as a comparable for other pending RFAs, or that we'd soon see another contract modeled off it. On Thursday, the Oilers signed Jordan Eberle to a six-year deal worth $36 million. Locking up the team's leading scorer of the past two seasons puts the cap on a successful summer for GM Steve Tambellini, who wisely gave Eberle a shorter term than Hall, ensuring that both won't come up as UFAs at the same time.
While it made life easier for Edmonton, the Hall and Eberle contracts could pose a problem in Boston where Tyler Seguin, the second pick in 2010, will expect a similar slice of the pie. The B's were hoping to get him done at a rate closer to $5 million per year, but even that AAV would put Peter Chiarelli in a tight spot. Boston's GM also has Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic coming to term next summer, and all three will be looking for sizable raises. Getting Seguin, an undisputed core player, signed quickly makes some sense. The others can wait until the parameters of a new CBA are set and Chiarelli, already carrying 10 no-movement contracts, has a better idea of the space he'll have to work with.
The Calgary Flames created a lot of buzz with their selection of Mark Jankowski with the 21st pick in June, but their second rounder is ready to build some of his own. American-born Pat Sieloff has been a beast in his first training camp with the Windsor Spitfires. Acquired in the trade last season that sent Dallas Stars first-rounder Jack Campbell to Sault Ste. Marie, the 18-year-old defender is earning comparisons to Detroit's Niklas Kronwall for his robust, physical play.
"If he's hitting his teammates like this," one scout said after a recent scrimmage, "I can't wait to see him when he goes up against the guys he's supposed to hurt."
A strong start to the OHL season should earn the US National Team Development Program grad a spot with Team USA at the 2013 World Juniors.