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Gong Show continues in New York. CBA negotiations? Not so much

4

January

So, this is what negotiations between the NHL and Players' Association on a new collective bargaining agreement have come to: the union accusing the owners of trickery and a report in the New York Post that says commissioner Gary Bettman told players in New York for bargaining sessions that there are general managers who regret some of the contracts they signed and wouldn't mind dismantling their teams.

And on Monday there is a status conference in federal district court on the union's motion against the league's lawsuit that seeks to have the lockout ruled legal. That comes as the players are voting again to give the union authorization to use a "disclaimer of interest," which would dissolve the union and free players to sue the league on anti-trust grounds.

With a presumed Jan. 11 deadline to get a deal done -- that is, the paperwork completed and signed, not just a handshake -- so games can begin by Jan. 19, you'd think there would be some serious work getting done. But there have been no signifiacnt talks since Wednesday's marathon session and if the Post's report is correct, Bettman decided it was a good time to insult the players. And while the players accused the owners of tricky maneuvering regarding a provision concerning hockey related revenues, the league said union lawyers simply missed the changes which, after the players objected, were changed back.

Here is how that went down, according to several reports from media outlets covering the negotiations:

The change concerned penalties a team would face if it was caught hiding hockey related revenue. In the original language, a first offense would cost $1 million and a first-round draft pick. A second offense would cost $5 million and three first-round picks. The league tried to change that to say Bettman would decide upon penalties.

The theory is the incident created even more distrust between the sides and is why negotiations that seemed to be moving forward have stalled.

Lightning right wing B.J. Crombeen, a member of the union's negotiating committee has not attended the most recent negotiating sessions but he has been briefed and said whether the league tried something underhanded is "a judgment call the people that were there will have to make."

That said, Crombeen added, "It obviously makes it harder to trust and get a deal done. ... For us, it's simple. If they want to get a deal done it's there to get done. If they want to continue to play some games and try to change things that have already been agreed upon and alter things or hide things, all those things aren't helpful to getting a deal done. If you want to get a deal done, let's sit down and get a deal done."

Crombeen called the entire process "maddening."

"To us it's been like that since Day 1," Crombeen said. "We feel that we've been showing and willing to get a deal done. There are points it seems like they are and then they do things to take a step backward and you shake your head and say, 'It doesn't really make sense why you would do that right now.' "

So, where do things stand? Seemingly pretty close:

* It seems both sides have agreed to a 10-year CBA, though the league wants a re-opener option after eight years. The players have proposed a seven-year re-opener. 

* The league wants a $60 million salary cap starting in 2013-14 and a $44 million floor. The players want a $65 million cap.

* The league wants a six-year cap on contracts while being able to sign a team's own free agents for seven years. The players would prefer eight-year contracts or no limits at all.

* There still is wrangling over who should pay for any funding shortfalls in player pensions.

* The league has made a big move on year-to-year salary variance within a contract, now calling for a maximum 30 percent, though according to Canada's CBC, no salary in a multi-year deal can be 60 percent lower than the highest.

* The league also has agreed to two compliance buyouts. They will not count against the cap but will come out of the players' share of revenues.

* Remember, too, players have agreed to reduce their share of revenues to 50 percent from 57 percent last season.

"One thing we keep talking about is that at the end of the day we've already gone past the point where it will be a good deal for us," Crombeen said. "It's trying to make something we can live with and work with. We're hopeful they can see all the concessions we've made to try to get this deal done and they can move off some things that have no economic value or very small economic value to them and understand how major it is to us after the concessions we've given them."

[Last modified: Friday, January 4, 2013 3:07pm]

    

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