More games are about to be cancelled and the so-called drop-dead date for a season to start is less than a month away.
But NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly thinks there will be games played this winter.
For all the doom and gloom of the past two weeks, that tiny ray of hope came during an interview on Hockey Night in Canada radio late Wednesday afternoon.
Asked by broadcaster Elliotte Friedman to give a yes or no answer on the question of “Will we have a season?” Daly offered a surprisingly frank reply.
“Yes,” he said.
This despite the fact the NHL’s fans have another lump of coal coming in the very near future.
Currently, the league’s schedule has been nixed up until New Year’s Eve, but with that date just 11 days away and no talks taking place, getting an agreement by then looks all but impossible.
Two more weeks will likely be cancelled before Christmas, and a ballpark date on when the season would have to begin in order to be salvaged has finally been spelled out.
“I don’t think there is a date circled,” Daly told The Fan 590 on Wednesday. “Obviously as we’re moving toward the end of December, you have to think about what’s realistic and how many games you can play. The commissioner is on record saying we’re not looking to play a season that’s less than 48 games.
“We have a general sense of when we have to be playing hockey by. It’s fair to say it’s some time in mid-January.”
Daly added that the NHL has had vice-president of scheduling and strategic planning Steve Hatze Petros putting together various compilations based on building availability and compressing the schedule.
As was the case during its last shortened season in 1995, the league would have to run regular-season games between mid-January and early May in order to end the postseason by the end of June.
There are even rumours it may allow the Stanley Cup final to run into the start of July, which would push back free agency, the awards ceremony and the draft.
Both Daly and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr made multiple media apperances on Wednesday as they continue to offer completely alternate views of where negotiations stand.
While Fehr characterized the two sides as “not very far apart” on what mattered, Daly said that was wishful thinking.
“There are a large number of issues; they want to categorize them into a small number, and quite frankly, their small number is far bigger than they want to admit.,” Daly said, before later adding: “To suggest as they have that we’re almost on top of each other I think would be overstating it to the extreme.”
“They know that on the substance that we’re not very far apart,” Fehr said. “They say they have nothing left to give. I would say what have they given? All the giving has been done by the players.”
A drop-dead date in mid-January leaves the league and players another three weeks of silliness and non-negotiating before they’ll have to finally make a compromise.
As for what remains to be sorted out, Daly painted a picture of issues within issues, including “transition measures” the NHLPA wants such as compliance buyouts and a cap on escrow that could put more money in the players’ pockets than the proposed 50-per-cent share.
“They’re asking for more dollars outside the system,” Daly said. “That’s not going to happen.”
Those small, nit-picky issues shouldn’t be nearly enough to derail a season, but with both sides apparently waiting each other out until the last minute, there’s always the danger that they aren’t able to hammer out the remaining details with time winding down.
As for the league’s hardline negotiating stance of late, Daly explained that a key factor in the standoff is that they simply do not want to make any mistakes in the new agreement.
“What we’re prepared to do is shut down the industry over doing a deal that’s not right for our owners,” Daly said. “That’s what we’re prepared to do.”
As for Daly’s belief that there’ll be a season, Fehr kept his response similarly succinct.
“I hope he’s right,” Fehr said.
With a report from David Shoalts