October: Close to done.
November: Still hope.
That is the state of the 2012 NHL season as the league and the NHLPA have agreed to resume negotiations this Friday.
The announcement was received with questionable optimism on the heels of Mr. Bettman’s dour acknowlegement that the schedule for October was likely to be cancelled very soon.
That optimism has since been downgraded to doubtful thanks to an agenda that is far from ambitious. Friday’s discussion is limited to “non-core economic” issues. In other words, the elephant in the room is getting very cozy and insiders are saying not to expect anything substantive to result.
But a deeper look may provide reason for upgrading our collective optimism to “day-to-day” without having to suspend reality or fool ourselves into a false sense of possibility.
The obvious positive to take from Friday’s tete-a-tete is that at least the two sides are meeting and negotiating something, even if that something is the regulation PSI of t-shirt cannons.
If we’re looking for anything this is better than nothing. As Bill Daly said, the two sides are “light years” ahead of their progress at this stage in 2004 and the meeting on Friday is evidence of such.
And let’s not sell this meeting short. It is admittedly disappointing the agenda omits discussion on the core economic issues. However, from a little can come a lot. The strategy for Friday appears to be to start small, build some momentum, establish some trust and then tackle the big issue. Progress begets progress.
It would also appear that the union may be grabbing the upper hand which would portend a faster resolution.
The first round of offers and counter offers saw the league cede more ground than the union and it has always been speculated that the final agreement will end up being a 50-50 split, especially if the definition on hockey related revenue remained the same.
That definition is a critical piece to the final agreement. A stricter definition means less money for players while the converse is of course true for owners. On this point of contention the union achieved a major concession as the last proposal from the league kept the current definition. Previous league proposals had narrowed it.
Finally, as Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News observes, the omission of core-economic issues from Friday’s discussion, though disconcerting on the surface, is another concession to the union.
Leonard writes, “…though the NHL previously has insisted on resolving the core economic issue before addressing any other negotiating points, the league is willing to negotiate on peripheral issues in the hopes of making more progress toward an agreement.”
It could be argued this momentum is cause for greater optimism than the meeting itself. From the jump the union was resolved to dig in its heels. They believed their concessions in 2004 were beyond gracious and if the owners were not satisfied they had only themselves to blame. The players, in a sense, were not going to bailout the owners again.
With that scenario taking hold it was clear that for a deal to get done that would avert a lengthy lockout the league would have to meet the union, not the other way around. These concessions are a good indication that the process has at least begun and the scenario is workable.
For the fan these may feel like small, even insignificant victories, but they are victories that are advancing the process. That is reason for some optimism… at least today. But check back tomorrow. We’re day-to-day on this.