New YorkThe NHL booted the media back onto the chilly streets of New York Friday, which was fitting since that was where the only action of the lockout could be found.
U.S. federal labour mediator Scot Beckenbaugh walked up and down Sixth Avenue between the NHL offices and the NHL Players' Association hotel several blocks away. His determined but futile attempts to bring both sides back to the bargaining table consisted of alternate meetings with each side, a process that began when negotiations broke down early Thursday morning.
It was a change for the reporters and camera operators, who spent the previous two days sitting and staring at each other in a makeshift work room in the NHL's cafeteria as they waited for one side or the other to say face-to-face negotiations were starting. But it was not a welcome change. By the end of the day, the sullen and bitter atmosphere that descended on the scene Thursday enveloped the media as well.
As another day was lost in the scant time remaining before the NHL's supposed deadline of Jan. 11 to get a new collective agreement or the season will be cancelled, there was no sense of any appetite for either side to get back to the bargaining table. Instead, they traded accusations of malfeasance and gamesmanship through their favoured reporters.
The only hope was that Beckenbaugh could somehow get the players and owners to admit they had some room to move on the most contentious issues. Then he might be able to get them to actually talk to each other again.
As darkness fell on Friday, there was no signal bargaining would resume.
The best chance for talks to get going again will probably come at 6 p.m. (Eastern) Saturday when the NHLPA will complete its player vote for another disclaimer of interest. It appears the union will once again easily get 75 per cent of its 740 members to approve the right for the NHLPA executive board to tell the NHL it will no longer represent the players. That will clear the way for the union to dissolve and the players to launch an anti-trust suit against the owners in a bid to end the lockout, which hit 111 days on Friday.
Here are the major issues jeopardizing an entire NHL season for the second time in eight years:
Salary cap and floor – The NHL wants a $60-million (all currency U.S.) cap in 2013-14 with a floor, or minimum payroll, of $44-million based on a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue. The players want a $65-million cap in order to allow more spending and more player movement. They asked the league to keep the floor at $44-million with the higher cap, but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman refused. He wants to keep the spread between the cap and floor at $16-million in the belief a wider gap between what the rich teams and poorer teams can spend would hurt competitive balance.
Variance – This new term in the hockey fan's lexicon refers to the difference in pay in a player's contract from one year to the next. The league wants no more than a 30-per-cent difference in compensation and no single year in a multiyear contract can be more than 60 per cent less than the highest-paid one. This is to prevent the front-loaded contracts that teams used to get around the salary cap.
Pensions – At one point, the players thought they had an agreement on a defined-benefit pension plan that would be funded by themselves plus $50-million from a $300-million fund that was to be established by the owners for "make-whole payments" for players whose salaries would be cut by escrow once they switch to a 50-50 revenue split. But the owners came back this week and said they do not want to be fully liable for the plan in the years after the collective agreement expires.
Contract term limits – The owners want to limit contracts to six years, seven if the player is already with the team. The players want it to be eight years.
Collective agreement – It seems both sides have agreed to try for a 10-year deal. But the NHL wants an opt-out clause for both sides after eight years while the players prefer seven. The owners also want the agreement to end on June 30, while the players want it to be Sept. 15, the date used in previous agreements.