We keep saying the two sides are close.
Many players, agents, governors, coaches, lawyers and pretty much everyone outside the key figures on both sides of the NHL lockout apparently believe it to be so.
But is it true? Is a deal within our grasp or is it merely wishful thinking from a group of people dumbfounded as another season appears ready to go off the labor cliff?
Well according to at least one top-level executive on the owners’ side of the table and a number of key players and agents, yes, the two sides are close.
One NHL governor provided ESPN.com with the framework for a deal he insisted would be palatable to both sides. Assuming the elements that were discussed last week in New York were still in place -- like $300 million in "make-whole" monies, agreements on free agency and arbitration rights -- the governor said he believes the following elements would represent the middle ground in the outstanding contracting, CBA term and transition issues.
Let’s call it the Do This Deal or Get Coal in Your Stocking for a Thousand Years deal.
-A nine-year CBA with a seven-year out for either side.
-A six-year contract limit with front-load/back-diving protection and eight-year limits for players who have been with a team for five years.
-Some simple buyout option as long as the buyouts are within the salary cap.
The ownership source acknowledged that leaving out the buyout element as part of the transition to a new CBA would be the least contentious way to bridge the gap at least as it relates to the owners’ concerns about funding the transition. The buyouts were introduced by the players’ association last week, the timing of which annoyed the owners -- not to mention the fact the buyouts as the players suggested would be outside the hockey-revenue pie, a significant problem for the owners.
Still, the author of the Do This Deal deal felt that both owners and players would support such a framework.
It appears he’s correct.
When the proposal was described to one high-profile veteran player, he agreed it was the kind of offer that at the very least could be put to a vote by the players’ association.
Another player familiar with the often-tumultuous nature of the negotiations agreed that the governor's offer should prompt a vote. He wasn’t certain it would pass, but at least it would give an accurate gauge of the union membership’s feelings about settling. Such an offer would also show that the owners were negotiating as opposed to merely making demands, which is the perception many players were left with after a second attempt at mediation Wednesday in New Jersey.
“I think it's definitely worth looking at,” another veteran player told ESPN.com. "We'd have to look it over and see what the implications are, but it's something to work with for sure. I think that will get some traction.
“But I would like our people to look at it before we say it's worth a vote. We hire them for these reasons, so I would like to hear their input.”
Several players and agents we spoke to asked to reach out to the deal's author.
A veteran agent agreed that this is the kind of compromise on both sides that is needed for a deal, although he remained skeptical that hard-line owners would go for it.
“That type of movement is needed but with Jacobs in charge, it is doubtful,” he said, referring to the chairman of the board of governors, Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs.
It’s difficult to say how the league might respond to such a framework. Those in charge have insisted that the elements they asked for from the players -- but were rebuffed last Thursday -- are all connected and that to move off the owners’ desires for a five-year cap on contracts would require some give in another area, or to come off the league’s desire for a 10-year term for a new CBA would require movement in another area.
Still, given that this idea came from the ownership side of the table suggests this isn’t all wishful thinking from a group that fears for the game’s very future.
Instead, doesn’t a framework like this suggest that a deal is possible, that it's close? Not to suggest getting there will be easy but that it’s possible, that by talking and moving the pieces around could, should yield a deal.
Sounds almost like negotiating.
Maybe Don Fehr and Gary Bettman would like to try it sometime. Sometime soon, that is.