For the sake of argument, let’s play a game of What If.
What if Gary Bettman and the NHL’s 30 owners really meant it when they said their last offer on Dec. 7 was the best they could do?
What if they came to the bargaining table and put that same proposal in front of the players. Would they take it?
“Not likely, no,” Capitals veteran forward Brooks Laich said. “I don’t see a way around it.”
Capitals teammate Jason Chimera agrees, saying that if the NHL owners don't budge off their Dec. 7 proposal the prospects of a 2013 season may go down the drain.
“If we take that deal our escrow could be 20 or 30 percent,” Chimera said. “There’s no cap on escrow. For guys like [Jay Beagle], it’s their first one-way contract and they may have it cut by 30 percent.
“That’s a big chunk of change. I know the players are itching to get going. We’re throwing up the idea of getting the owners and players back in the room together to get some traction and they don’t want to talk.”
Chimera and Laich both said that if the owners were willing to bend on just a few sticking points, a deal could be reached in a matter of days and the league could be playing by the second week of January.
As it stands now, if a deal is not struck within the next two weeks, an entire season will evaporate.
“You’re never going to get it out of me to say no, we won’t play, because I firmly believe that we have to play,” Laich said. “But I know for a fact that the players will not sign a bad deal, something that is bad for us.
“We’ve given a lot so far in this negotiation; we’ve given a lot more than we probably wanted to give. But it’s because the players care about playing. We just need to be enticed a little bit by the other side and we haven’t seen anything.
“We’ve had record revenues. We keep hearing, ‘We’ve got to cut your salaries; we’ve got to cut you benefits; we’ve got to cut your everything. We need something that is better than what we had before to entice us to make a deal, but we haven’t seen any of that.”
Chimera said that if the owners really wanted to make whole on player contracts, they’d be forking out “upwards of $550 million,” and not the $300 million they’ve agreed to pay and the players have accepted.
“We agreed to a pay cut; we agreed to the 50-50; we agreed to a six-year CBA,” Chimera said. “And now they want a 10-year.
“They never mentioned anything about [player] contract length and now they’re dead set against anything but a five-year [maximum] and a 5 percent variance. For them to say that’s the hill they’re going to die on is pretty tough to say when [we] agree to a six-year CBA length, plus we agreed to two more and went to eight.
“It just seems like we’re chasing a chicken around, around and around and we can’t catch him. I don’t know if they’re trying to crush the union or what. We gave a lot.
“It’s tough for people working 9 to 5 to take sides with what we’re doing. But ultimately you have to take a stance. We make money for a very short period of our lives and we want to do what’s right by a lot of guys coming into the league. We agreed to money two weeks ago and now it’s stalled and we’re not even negotiating. I don’t know where we go.”
Really there are only two ways to go. The two sides will soften their positions and agree to play a shortened season, or they will continue to stand on principle and see the league shut down for the second time in eight years.
“The NHL is the only one of the four major sports in North America to ever lose a season to a lockout,” Laich said. “I don’t know how we can possibly do that twice in eight years.
“I cannot understand or fathom the idea of losing two seasons in eight years. That would be an absolute disgrace. It would be a terrible black eye on the sport of hockey and I think it would have a tremendous ripple effect from diehard fans to kids, especially in non-traditional hockey markets, but even in traditional hockey markets.”
That said, will there be hockey this season or not?
“We gotta play hockey, man,” Laich said. “We have to play.”