The NHL and the NHL Players' Association will end 16 days of silence between them on Friday when they sit down to resume labour negotiations but fans should not get optimistic peace is at hand.
While it is yet to be decided just where they will meet - the NHL offices in New York or the union headquarters in Toronto - one thing is certain. The central issue of how to cut up the league's $3.3-billion (all currency U.S.) revenue pie will not be discussed.
When NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr met on Tuesday to discuss resuming talks about a new collective agreement it was decided "non-core economic issues", as one union official put it, would form the basis of the discussion. That is because both sides remain far apart on the question of what share of the NHL's hockey-related revenue should go to the players.
No one would be specific on just what the non-core economic issues are. Sticky points like the NHL owners' demand to abolish salary arbitration, raise the age of unrestricted free agency and limit the length of contracts are all core issues to the players.
It is likely the talks will start with relatively, and the word relatively needs to be stressed here, less controversial topics like minimum salary, grievances, increasing benefits for retired players, medical and travel costs and promoting the game internationally.
At this point, there are no plans for discussions beyond Friday. The attitude on both sides is to see how things go on that day and then decide if it is worthwhile to keep talking. The hope for the fans is that if some progress is made on the secondary issues then both sides may develop an appetite to try and close the gulf between them on the major revenue problem.
However, it is best not to get hopeful just yet. It was only 24 hours ago that Daly made it clear the NHL owners think the only way substantial discussions can start again is if the players bring a new proposal to the table. There is no indication that is going to happen.
"Obviously, we’ve got to talk before you can get a deal, so I think it’s important to get the talks going again," Daly said. “But you also have to have something to say. I think it’s fair to say we feel like we need to hear from the players’ association in a meaningful way because I don’t think that they’ve really moved off their initial proposal, which was made more than a month ago now."
There have also been threats from the management side to cancel the Jan. 1 Winter Classic by November and talk in response from the players that the lockout could last a full season or even two years