So, the executive board of the NHL Players’ Association now has the hammer. The question is, will the board swing it?
The NHLPA decided Friday to keep the results of the vote an internal matter, but several players confirmed to ESPN.com that the membership delivered a resounding "yes" in giving the executive board the authorization to file a disclaimer of interest before Jan. 2 (a two-thirds majority was required).
Which should surprise no one, given that every player quoted in the past week predicted as much.
"What would it say about us if we didn’t vote yes," one player said.
A "no" vote, frankly, would show weakness in the union ranks. A "yes" vote shows continued solidarity, while not necessarily meaning the NHLPA will go ahead and file the motion.
The prevailing wisdom from the players we talked to is that the NHLPA would wait until the last possible moment before Jan. 2 before deciding whether to file the disclaimer, although that’s not a certainty. In fact, if talks with the NHL don’t show any traction next week (we’re assuming the two sides will meet), I wouldn’t be surprised if the NHLPA filed earlier than Jan. 2.
But for now, the thought is that the focus between now and then should be on trying to hammer out a deal with the NHL once and for all. In other words, the hope is that the threat of the disclaimer will produce movement, just as it did in the NBA last year.
And my guess is, the NHLPA will relay that exact message to the NHL: Its board has the hammer, but the focus right now is on getting back together and getting a deal done.
For those who don’t think the NHLPA will file the disclaimer, think again. On Friday, one NHL player told ESPN.com that, although the focus clearly is on getting a deal done, he believes the disclaimer is a "serious step we may have to take."
Just how does a deal finally get done? I wrote Dec. 7 about the three main issues that continue to divide the two sides, but overall there are a few more, as well, even if the others are less important. Let’s take a look at those three issues again, plus others:
1. CBA term -- The NHL wants a 10-year deal with a mutual opt-out after eight years. The NHLPA was last willing to go eight years with the union’s unilateral right to opt out after six years.
2. Individual term limits on player contracts -- The NHL wants five-year limits (with seven years allowed for players re-signing with own teams); the NHLPA last countered with eight-year limits.
3. Salary variability on contracts -- The NHL wants 5 percent year-to-year salary variability limits on all contracts; the NHLPA last proposed no year less than 25 percent of value of highest year only in contracts of seven years or more.
4. "Cap Benefit Recapture" formula -- This is the Roberto Luongo back-diving contract rule, penalizing teams with cap hits even if a player retires before the end of his contract. The NHL has different versions of how it works, but regardless, all of the NHL’s versions apply to all existing contacts of five years or more; the NHLPA applies only to remaining terms of seven years or more.
5. Salary cap -- The NHL is at $60 million with a one-year transition/grace period to get there; the NHLPA is at $67.25 million and never going lower.
6. Payroll range -- The NHLPA wants at most plus or minus 20 percent of the midpoint, the NHL has a more involved formula.
7. Transition rules -- This will be a tricky one, perhaps the last issue to get resolved. The NHL doesn’t want any more money spent outside the system; the NHLPA wants compliance buyouts plus a cap on escrow to facilitate the transition for teams to get under a smaller cap and players to go down to 50-50 of hockey-related revenue. But the league sees that as money that would be outside the system.
The big three are CBA term, player contract limits and transition rules. If and when they can ever find middle ground on those three, the deal will get done in a hurry.
Speaking of a hurry, the clock is ticking toward Jan. 2.
Once and for all, time to get a deal done, boys.