They came. They saw. They had dinner. Many dinners.
And now they might even be serious. As NHL players had predicted from the start of the current labour process, the two sides in the NHL collective bargaining throw-down have finally gotten down to brass tacks in early December. There are offers and counter offers. Proposals and counter proposals.
Just as happened in the NBA's CBA tussle last year. Which was settled, oh… about this time in December.
Ten-year CBA. Five-year contract terms. A split on the notorious "make whole" provisions for existing contracts.
In a story that left cynicism in the rearview mirror months ago, the brass being shown by the league and, in some respects, the players by letting the script play out this way is stunning. Donald Fehr called his shot on a December settlement, and Gary Bettman obliged. Perhaps this makes sense to those people snug inside the cocoon of this story. But they'd be the only ones.
As the weary negotiators grabbed some sleep on Wednesday night, there was talk of getting things done by Friday so the NHL could resume before the end of December. Maybe even a Xmas Day game.
In normal times, curious minds would now be wondering what kind of schedule we will see or the terms of the new deal. But this process has sapped so many of their tolerance for the sport. All that exists now is a grudging acknowledgement that the parties have indulged themselves in the most mendacious fashion possible.
A settlement this week? Yahoo. Wonder what else is on TV?
Bored reporters (are there any other kind in the lockout?) needed something new and dynamic to report. So when the NHL PR types brought out the commissioner's podium...
"@NHLPodium I am always bad news. New York"
"@NHLPodium What's the difference between me, and a promise to Glendale city council? NHL officials actually intend to stand behind me."
"@andrewhirsh Gary Bettman has binders full of podiums."
And then this podium-less jab: "@DonLagreca Talk the NHL will play on christmas day. Maybe next year they can try October and November as well."
CHANGE AT THE TOP
When baseball last suffered a loss of season to a labour strife in 1994, Milwaukee owner Bud Selig was so instrumental in forging a new deal that MLB owners ditched the concept of a high-priced labour lawyer like Bettman or NBA commissioner David Stern and gave Selig the job instead. He's still there today.
After watching the role played by Pittsburgh owner Ron Burkle in this CBA process, perhaps the NHL owners might just look to installing him in place of Bettman when this all ends. Burkle might not be interested, of course, but he could be prevailed upon if the deal was right.
Something needs to change. Finding an owner who can get the cooperation of all the owners – not a cozy kitchen coterie led by hawks like Jeremy Jacobs and Murray Edwards – might be the best thing to come out of an otherwise disastrous situation.
Close to home in Ottawa.... "@petermansbridge Who needs hockey brawls when you can just watch House of Commons TV? What really happened on the Hill today – Terry Milewski will tell us."
FADE TO BLACK
Not that the NHL needs any more reasons to hasten a settlement of the CBA mess, but there is also the matter of the Canadian TV rights to be decided between now and the fall of 2014. Having paid for a year of programming that it has so far not received, CBC could be entitled to another year under the contact at $0 for 2014-15 should the entire season be cancelled.
So instead of cashing in a new contract or contracts with Canadian TV in 2014 that could double or even triple the current contract, the NHL would be stuck with a lame-duck year under the old terms.
With so many sponsors feeling singed by the NHL during this unnecessary process, the league will need all its broadcast revenues to push the revenue sharing agreement it is now thrashing out with players. Getting little or nothing from its Canadian rightsholder in 2014-15 would be a disaster for both the NHL and its players.
And an incentive to finish what was started over the last few days.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
Now, a short prayer for the Toronto Raptors. The 4-15 Toronto Raptors, wandering blindly through a western road trip. Okay, that's enough. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.
firstname.lastname@example.org / @dowbboy