Last week was a tumultuous one for hockey fans. Early on into the surprisingly successful CBA negotiations, jerseys were likely being pulled out of closets, Madden was put away in favor of NHL 13, and fans had their debit cards at the ready to buy tickets for a re-worked schedule that would allow for 55-60 games.
Then it all disappeared. Like Alex-Rodriguez-in-the-playoffs disappeared. One day the hope was there, the next it was just gone. The owners and the players had their representatives back out there spewing venom in emotional press conferences that assured us a season would be lost.
But just as Obi-Wan once declared that Luke Skywalker was “our last hope”, only to be countered by Yoda (“there is another”), a glimmer of hope remains that a deal between the NHL and the NHLPA will be reached in the very near future. After all, with so much success in negotiating last week, they couldn’t possibly let that go to waste could they?
Instead, what we are very likely seeing is an absolutely epic script playing out just as the owners would like. And while each side would have you think that negotiations completely failed by the end of last week, the two sides actually are not that far apart on any single issue. It’s not even a matter of economics at this point. It’s a matter of wrapping up a few last minute details.
The issue of player salaries is virtually settled. Contract length is very close. The revenue split looks like it is good to go. One of the major issues still facing each side is whether or not the players want to agree to a 10-year CBA. That should be an easy decision from every standpoint. Especially the players.
Each side knows where the other stands. When the two sides meet on Wednesday, and hopefully for the duration of the week, there are no surprises. Each one knows what the other wants. They just needed that explosion last week to see how far they could push each other.
Assuming I’m right, and assuming a season starts by the end of December or, more likely, early January, the stars align for a 48-game season. There’s a way to re-work that schedule and get it to become manageable over that span, without risking the safety and health of the players.
My confidence in a new CBA becoming an accomplishment before next summer has waned at times, but has remained high since last week. There is too much at stake for each side, and with how close they are, there’s no possible explanation for wasting a season. And if you’re on the side of the players, and you’re willing to throw away a season over the length of the CBA itself, then don’t even bother showing up to the negotiating table on Wednesday.
But it looks like within the next few days, we could finally have some good news and take those sweaters out of the closet for good, as this thing, mercifully, comes to an end. Expect hockey by the first day of 2013. Then again, this is Gary Bettman we’re dealing with. No guarantees.