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The Globe and Mail

NHL, NHLPA have plenty to bicker over beyond the percentages

Buffalo Sabres' Cody McCormick's locker is shown at the First Niagara Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres NHL hockey team, in Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012.

Associated Press

We have breaking news: The NHL and NHLPA are finally going to sit together in a room and negotiate on something on Friday.

What took so long, we'll never know.

They've apparently given up on talking about the "core economic issues" (which, by the way, is quickly becoming the annoying league-speak phrase that "cost certainty" was in 2004-05) for the moment and will hopefully focus on some of the other pressing issues that have so far been neglected.

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There's a lot beyond the percentages that is important and divisive, too.

Just look at what the league has asked for. Pushing free agency to a later age? Five year entry level contracts? A contract term limit?

And that's not even getting into participation in the Olympics, realignment, player safety, discipline and everything else. (TSN's Darren Dreger reports that topics such as pensions, benefits, grievances and travel will be on Friday's agenda.)

Few of these issues are going to be easy to solve, but things like changing the free agency age and extending entry level contracts could be deal breakers on the players' side, perhaps even more than the percentage issue.

Consider, for one, the entry level deals, which could be very problematic for young European players in particular. We're already seeing some Russians stay in the KHL until they hit 23 or 24 in order to not have to play for a very low base salary in the NHL for three years; imagine if that suddenly becomes five years during which players can't be paid market value.

Players staying at home overseas could potentially become a far more prevalent with so much more cash available than being locked in an entry level situation with a base salary of $1-million or less for half a decade.

Then there's the current free agency age, which is as young as 25 for players that enter the league at 18 and 27 for the majority of the rest. Players view this situation as one of the few "wins" they got out of the last collective bargaining agreement – the reward for accepting a salary cap – and don't see it as a given that they should have to now give it back.

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Especially if they ultimately "lose" on the percentage issue and settle for 50 per cent or less.

That's the thing here: You can't really separate the various negotiating points from one another into separate boxes and say "let's talk about the economic issues and nothing else until that's solved."

Everything is tied together in this fight. If the players give on the percentages, shouldn't that then mean they get some sort of concession on another issue?

That's generally how negotiations work, and that's why it's a minor positive they're bringing some of these other bargaining points into the conversation.

The overall fight may be about the money and the final percentage they land on, but there's more at play here, too. And they're not going to get any closer to solving some of those issues by ignoring them for months on end.

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