Following in the U.S. government footsteps, the NHL and its players (NHLPA) are trying to avoid their own fiscal cliff. They met for a second time Wednesday, January 2, 2013, just after 5:00 p.m. PST to work out a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) before commissioner Gary Bettman's stated deadline to save the season of January 11.
San Jose Sharks players and management should be highly motivated to reach a deal. Many of the players are aging. A salary cap of $60 million next season means management will not be able to replace expiring contracts. Over the next two years, seven of the nine top skaters in ice time last season will either be re-signed or lost.
Talks went into the wee hours of Thursday morning and were set to resume around 7:00 a.m. PST according to NHL.com, but did not get underway until about 9:30 a.m. San Jose time. That meeting lasted about 90 minutes and more talks might be on the way this afternoon.
Three meetings over the last 24 hours—including one that went on for over four hours—indicate the two sides are close. The fact that according to ESPN's Katie Strang, the NHLPA did not go ahead with its disclaimer of interest almost certainly means they expect a deal to be reached.
Such a move would almost certainly have derailed talks. Not only have owners walked out of talks over less, but players would not have had the legal standing to negotiate a new CBA as a group, having to opt for individual player lawsuits to end the lockout.
Instead, Sharks fans have every reason to think there will be a deal reached before the end of next week. The owners already made concessions on several points according to the offer outlined by Pierre LeBrun of ESPN last week.
Most notably, they went up from a five-year to six-year limit on contracts (still seven for the the player's current team) and agreed to a 10 percent maximum margin between contract years—players sought 20 percent but owners had offered five. They also brought their $300 million "make whole" offer back to pay out current contracts and agreed to keep entry-level and free agency rules as they are and rolled back offseason workout requirements much as the NFL did to get their deal in 2011.
There were a couple new things that came out of that deal. Teams will be allowed one contract buyout each—something suggested here before a single game had been lost to the lockout—that will not count against the salary cap but will be considered part of the player share. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Winnipeg Jets will also reportedly switch divisions.
The deal is for 10 seasons, but both sides are able to opt out after eight. That has remained a sticking point for the NHLPA, concerned about players it does not yet represent being stuck with a deal they had no say in all the way through their first unrestricted free agency contract.
Bettman has said there were things from the players counter-proposal this week the league accepted and others they rejected. Since NHLPA chief Donald Fehr has not refuted that characterization, it is fair to assume the new CBA will be better for the players than the offer the NHL made last week. That is why for the first time public opinion may turn against the NHLPA if talks fall through.
Bettman has said the two sides are still apart on several issues. Thus, expect negotiations to continue through the weekend but a deal to be reached before the end of next week.