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Stalemate returns to CBA negotiations

NEW YORK -- Well, I guess it was too much to ask them to continue to act like adults for the entire week.

Nope, the old show returned Friday, NHL labor talks off the rails after a week full of promise and for the first time, real, meaningful negotiation.

As I wrote Thursday night, they hadn’t delivered a whole lot of progress in the first three days of meetings this week, but at least they were seemingly willing to turn the other cheek and persevere through it, logging in the longest and most frank bargaining hours of this entire lockout.

Then Friday came, and you knew it wasn’t going to be pretty because sources on both sides of the aisle were privately predicting "negative vibes" before the big group even got together.

A source on each side told ESPN.com that it got more than a little unfriendly by the end of Friday’s session.

Oy.

One NHL player who was on the players’ internal conference call, which followed that disappointing bargaining session, said the mood was heated on the call and players were all riled up, the consensus being that the league’s stated desire in Friday’s meeting was to not give an inch on any of its player contracting demands.

"Everyone is disturbed on lack of movement on contracting rights," said the player via text message. "That’s really hurting the process."

Truth is, I believe the league will relent on some of those contracting issues but only if and when there’s agreement on the Make Whole solution.

As predicted in this space since last week, Make Whole was going to make or break this negotiation and finding common ground on it is the only way to salvage a deal.

Sources on both sides confirmed to ESPN.com that the league’s Make Whole offer -- an attempt to honor players’ existing contracts -- amounts to $211 million of guaranteed money ($149 million in Year 1 and $62 million in Year 2, both deferred in payment by one year and payable with interest). The league’s belief is that by Year 3 of the deal, revenues will have likely grown enough that at 50 percent of HRR the players shouldn’t face much if any salary erosion in escrow. At which one NHLPA source countered, what if the revenues don’t grow that much? Then what? The union says in that case players aren’t made whole on their contracts.

Listen, the league’ $211 million Make Whole offer is not anything to sniff at; it’s a tangible move on the league’s part. But it’s still nowhere close to where the NHLPA would be willing to sign off on. Try about $600 million or so. That might do it.

At $211 million, the NHLPA doesn’t feel that comes close to making players "whole" on current contracts.

"It’s not make whole -- it’s make partial," said one player via text.

The NHLPA, sources on both sides confirmed Friday night, instead told the league Friday that it wants a guarantee that players won’t earn a dime less than the $1.883 billion in salaries made last season plus 1.75 percent on top of that. You can imagine the league’s reaction to that. The whole point of this lockout from the owners’ perspective is to back the players down from $1.883 billion a year in salary costs.

And so with the two sides still massively set apart on Make Whole and player contracting issues as well, the feeling of a stalemate returns.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr told a group of assembled media Friday night in the union’s New York offices that he doesn’t think the two sides are as far apart on the key structures as the NHL thinks.

NHL folks will tell you that Fehr doesn’t want to fully engage in a solution at this point. On the union side, we were told once again Friday that the league is following a set timetable established a long time ago and it’s clear they’re not ready to negotiate until they hit the magical date.

Just shoot me now.

What really matters now is how both sides respond after a week in which they finally showed a willingness to negotiate like grown men.

Do they get back in the bargaining room Saturday and try to persevere through this? Or does this become a charade once again for a while?

Veteran negotiators in other businesses will tell you these things have ebbs and flows and you can’t get too high or too low from day to day.

That’s important to remember that on a day when it felt like everyone was back to their old tricks.