NHLPA Holds Off on Disclaiming, Both Sides Inch Closer in Negotiations >

Thursday, Jan 3, 2013 -

Ahhhh, my first article of the New Year. And it begins with the buildup of last night's CBA meeting between a motivated NHL and NHLPA. 

Yesterday's 11:59pm EST hour stood as the Union's deadline to submit their Disclaimer of Interest to Commissioner, Gary Bettman. When the clock struck 12:00, the hockey world went silent. Stillness swept through the journalists as they hunkered together in the NHL headquarters. 

Not a peep. 

I prudently refreshed my Twitter timeline like a prison warden checks his watch on death row. 

Still nothing. 

Touché, sir. 

To everyone's relief, the Union had not disclaimed. 

Had Fehr & Co. decided to file their Disclaimer of Interest, then it would have meant the Union dissolving and the Players would then become a Trade Association. The point of all that is to open the doors of litigation and antitrust suits against the NHL, asking the court of law to deem the lockout illegal. 

Thankfully, that never took place ten-and-a-half short hours ago.  

Instead, both parties ventured through midnight in negotiations as the hockey world anxiously looked on with high hopes. Many NHL insiders believed that if there was no disclaiming, then it'd mean the two sides are close to an agreement. Yet we're being told that the largest remaining issue happens to be the Players' pensions; a topic that's extremely important to the Union, but holds little importance to the fans. This obstacle has the potential to cost us an abbreviated 2012-13 season.

The good news here is that neither side is shutting down and dismissing the other, like we've seen so many times in the past. Just the opposite -- the NHL and NHLPA will continue to meet daily, both internally as well as at the bargaining table, and try to bang out the newest edition of a collective bargaining agreement. However, the Union still has the option to poll Players on whether they'd support a "disclaimer of interest" -- the first one passed overwhelming last month -- and a source indicated that it remains a viable option if a deal isn't struck soon. [TSN.ca]

The not-so-good news is that both sides have (again) requested mediation in their next meeting. US Federal Mediator, Scot Beckenbaugh will join in and offer his professionally objective opinions as the Players & Owners inch closer to one another. 

I'm not so sure how I feel about this. Unbinding mediation has been an abysmal failure thus far. Each side has not been ready to be told what "they ought to do." Instead, their egos have played the role of security, and has turned mediation's insight away at the door. 

The only wildcard factor now is that there's a Do-or-Die deadline burning the feet of every Union and League executive. January 11th is the latest the NHL believes they can salvage a 48-game condensed schedule. The pressure has never been heavier. It's literally staring everyone in the face like a guard dog about to get let off its chain. If anything positive is gonna happen, it needs to happen now. 

Hopefully mediation factors in effectively with the remaining hazards, which we're being told are no small battles. Elliotte Friedman from CBC.ca writes, "Both Bettman and Fehr agreed that there was some progress but a lot of major work remained. Fehr said the core economic issues continue to be a problem. People will get excited about the idea of progress, but what that says is any movement in the right direction was likely on smaller stuff. 

"There are still wide gulfs when it comes to the most important issues, including salary cap for 2013-14 (owners want $60 million US, players $65M). We all want to get excited, but the highest hurdles remain unconquered."

Regardless of what stands between them, we're seeing progressive movement being made. Most find all these counter-offers to be absurd, and I'm saying that that's negotiating. It is a hell of a lot better than watching Gary Bettman shake angrily at the NHL podium and curse the Union under his breath. It's a hell of a lot better than listening to Donald Fehr bark into a sea of beat-writers that he wishes he had a better negotiating partner. It's a hell of a lot better than hearing the NHL drop another meaningless "final offer" threat. 

If this war is going to be won through crusades of inches, then that's the way it has to be. If it gets us our hockey before February, then so be it. 

FYI --

Both sides plan on meeting today. No time has been set, but keep watching O&BP's Facebook page for updates. 

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