The messages are about as mixed, and convoluted, as they can possibly be.
Here you have the NHL poised to lock out its players Saturday in a dispute that's largely financially based.
Then you have the Boston Bruins signing second-year forward Tyler Seguin to a six-year, $34.5-million (all currency U.S.) contract extension. The deal is to pay him a $5.75-million annual average – provided that it doesn't get rolled back in whatever shape or form the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) takes.
Seguin becomes the second member of the Bruins' young core to sign a long extension. Brad Marchand inked a four-year deal last Friday. Nor were the Bruins the only NHL team to lock up their promising kids in these past few frantic weeks before the CBA expires. The Edmonton Oilers did it previously with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, the Carolina Hurricanes with Jeff Skinner, and the Ottawa Senators (to a lesser degree) with Kyle Turris and Zack Smith.
Naturally, you want to ask: How bad can the business of hockey be if teams are trying so hard to get their young players signed under the wire under terms of a contract they say no longer works for them?
And is it any more curious because the Bruins are owned by Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of the NHL's board of governors, and one of the key voices on the owners' side? You can be sure that whatever demands NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is making, Jacobs is fully on board, with the tactics used at the bargaining table and with the end game in mind.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli's answer was telling: His primary goal is to put together a team that will eventually need to play hockey in Boston once the labour dispute is resolved. And he sees Seguin as a cornerstone player in the years ahead and wants to make sure that he can keep him around for as long as possible.
"I know the optics don't look great and I hope the two sides come together to get a CBA in place," Chiarelli said on a conference call with reporters. "I've got to do my business as usual – and we've got some good young players that we're trying to keep in the mix for a while."
Under their first offer to players last July, NHL owners asked for term limits on contracts and to extend the entry-level period to five years from five.
If the latter provision were in today's CBA, then Seguin would still be operating under his first contract, governed by the so-called rookie cap, and not in line for the riches that he will soon get.
"I know we've talked openly about the second contract problem and we're trying to fix it," Chiarelli said. "I try and do my job. I try and move forward. These are core players I try and lock up. They're players that we know.
"When people talk about optics, I try and respond by saying, 'These are core players that are going to be with our team within – I believe – the parameters that we're going to have going forward.'
"I feel there'll be some flexibility – enough if we have to make some changes under a new system, and that's how we've decided to go forward with it."
It isn't clear how much Seguin will eventually see of the $34.5-million owed to him on a contract that begins in 2013-14. Enough probably.
Under the players' original counter offer, the National Hockey League Players' Association proposed a system that increases revenue sharing and would limit future salary-cap increases, but would permit players to receive the full value of the contracts they've signed.
The question was therefore put to Seguin: If both sides eventually give a little in these negotiations, he might not actually earn the full $34.5-million he signed for.
Would he be okay with that?
"I mean, yeah," Seguin answered. "Obviously, in the end, I'm just happy I can be here for another seven years including this one coming up, if everything works out. I thought it was a fair deal. Right now, that's what I'm living in. I'm not thinking too much about losing money in the future. I support [NHLPA executive director] Don Fehr and the PA in what's going on in the bargaining agreement. Hopefully, it all works out for the best."
Hopefully, it does.
But it sure doesn't look as if it will work out for the best any time soon, and you can be sure that whenever the two sides return to the bargaining table, Fehr will list all the contracts handed out this summer to players as further proof that the owners are crying wolf. And if they really can't afford to pay these sorts of salaries, why are they handing them out, right up to the CBA witching hour?