What we need to know about weekend talks

What we need to know about weekend talks
December 29, 2012, 1:30 pm
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Here’s what every hockey fan needs to know about the NHL negotiations that will take place this weekend via conference call [Saturday] and face-to-face in New York [presumably  Sunday]:

What the owners want: The only real changes to the owners’ Dec. 7 proposal is adjusting the maximum length of future player contracts from five years to six and adjusting the variance of those contract amounts from 5 percent to 10 percent.

The length of the new CBA would be 10 years with a mutual option to end the agreement after eight years

What the players want: The players would prefer eight-year contract maximums and a 25 percent variance. The players would also like an eight-year agreement with an opt-out after six. The owners are not likely to budge on the maximum contract lengths but may allow some wiggle room on the variance, possibly bumping it up to 15 percent. The owners likely will stick to their guns on a 10-year agreement as well.

The real sticking point: The owners kept their $300 million “make whole” offer on the table, but it comes with a $60 million salary cap for the 2013-14 season with a one-time, one-player buyout provision for each team.

By dropping the salary cap from $70.2 million to $60 million, players will need to sacrifice as much as 20 percent of their 2013-14 salaries and, not surprisingly, they are finding that hard to swallow. If the owners beef up that $300 million to say, $330 million, the deal gets done in a snap, but many NHL owners are already upset with the $300 million offer and likely would not approve an increase.

The ticking clock: The NHL has stated it wants an agreement no later than Jan. 11, allowing training camps to open the following day and a 48-game, conference-only regular season to begin no later than Jan. 19 and end no later than April 30, allowing the Stanley Cup playoffs to finish by the end of June.

If that happens, the NHL would be cramming 48 games into 102 days, or one game every 2.125 days.

The bottom line: If Don Fehr comes back to the owners asking for major concessions on their latest offer, like adding $50 million to their “make whole” provision or raising next season’s salary cap to $65 million, there will not be an NHL season. If he comes back with tweaks like increasing the variance or reducing the length of the CBA to nine years, the league will be back in business within the next two weeks.

Our take: The parameters of a new CBA have been in place for weeks and one more round of negotiations should be enough to result in an agreement. It should take no longer than a week for the two sides to agree in principle and get players back on the ice by Jan. 5, a week ahead of the proposed deadline. That would allow for a 50-game schedule beginning Jan. 12.