CBA negotiations at 'crucial' period

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association are entering a key phase in their CBA impasse.

Judging from conversations I’ve had over the past 24 hours, the next seven to 10 days are seen as "crucial" by some to finding out whether there’s a meaningful negotiation between the sides and finally a bit of traction in talks, or whether there's a freezing-out period similar to eight years ago when three months went by without any negotiations occurring.

Despite not officially bargaining with each other since last Wednesday when both sides delivered updated proposals, the league and NHLPA have kept nearly daily contact via their respective No. 2 men: Steve Fehr of the NHLPA and Bill Daly of the NHL.

In fact, the two were expected to touch base with each other Tuesday night to figure out what’s next in the process.

You have to believe bargaining will resume over the next week, and hopefully both sides return to the table willing to move off their positions in an attempt to find some middle ground.

They better. Otherwise, we’re looking at a prolonged affair.

We’ve been telling you about the key philosophical divide that currently has things grounded to a halt: The owners want to shave money from the players right from the outset of the next CBA (via escrow), while the players are willing to take less in the future but no less than they already have ($1.873 billion in salaries last season). It’s a dramatic difference of opinion.

To add context to this disagreement, consider what happened in late June as an important precursor to this. At that point, both sides confirmed to ESPN.com that the NHL approached the NHLPA and asked it to consider freezing the salary cap at $64.3 million, the number which was in effect for the 2011-12 season, instead of raising it for the July 1 start of free agency.

The league’s view was that raising the cap for this past offseason was an artificial inflation of the cap given that a new CBA was in the offing. Not surprisingly, the NHLPA declined the offer, very much in its rights under the expiring CBA to have the salary cap increase July 1 according to corresponding revenues. As such, the salary cap went up to $70.2 million for the July 1 opening of the market, and some teams went ahead and spent like drunken sailors.

From that moment on, the league and owners were intent on recouping some of that money in the ensuing CBA talks.

The summer’s free-agent spending under the new salary cap was an important factor in what now stands as the No. 1 philosophical battle between the sides.