On Tuesday afternoon – when NHL players and owners are set to meet without Gary Bettman and Don Fehr – the weather in New York is forecast to be positively balmy, some clouds and 17 C in early December.
The temperature inside is unclear. Some owners are suddenly optimistic while others see a season slipping away. And should Canada’s biggest hockey star, Sidney Crosby, be in the room, my colleague Roy MacGregor highlights a big unspoken question in this lockout, player safety and concussions, which has gone essentially unmentioned when a year ago it was the biggest story in hockey and now subsumed by a lockout that has been a long calculus over divvying up millions and billions of dollars.
But if Tuesday proves to be a breakthrough, and given it is now December, the question of mechanics stews. Reviving hockey would happen quickly, if a deal were to be had, with about 10 days from the agreement to the puck dropping for regular-season games, according to Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner. He will be in the room Tuesday afternoon, along with Steve Fehr, counsel for the players association.
“Timeline is we likely need at least seven days for training camp and at least a couple days before then to finalize and adequately document the deal,” said Daly in an e-mail on Monday evening.
Monday evening also saw a seeming unusual media report, from sports anchor Steve Burton of WBZ-TV in Boston. Burton reported that there had been a private meeting Monday with a “high-ranking official” from both sides, the players and the league, and “significant progress” had been made, with a deal possibly announced Tuesday or Wednesday.
Daly, as he did in last week when mediation failed, described the gap between the two sides as significant.
A source from the owners side with a pessimistic view told The Globe on Monday that the gap between the two sides is possibly too large to bridge.
In theory, the sides are only $182-million apart, based on the now-often cited agreement on the players acquiescing to the owners’ demand for a 50-50 split of hockey revenues. But the players want an infusion of $393-million to cover current contracts, whereas the owners have offered $211-million.
The figure of $182-million does not seem massive against revenue of $3.3-billion in 2011-12, especially with the acknowledged disaster of losing a second season in nine years.
Still, last week, mediators spent several hours with both sides over two days and, according to Daly, the conclusion was: “the parties remained far apart.”
On Monday evening, responding to a question about the reported $182-million gap, Daly pointed to the other big issues such as player contracts and length of the next collective bargaining agreement.
Owners are, as with the revenue split, seeking concessions, while players are trying to hang on to what they had agreed to just seven years ago.
“Differences aren't just financial,” said Daly by e-mail. “Still a long way apart on system issues and term. Unfortunately, lots left to agree to.”