Say this for the NHL and the Players Association, negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement have been much more cordial than the contentious talks that produced the current CBA but also the 2004-05 lockout.
As Lightning right wing B.J. Crombeen said:
"Every single player and I'm sure every single owner is thinking they can and want to get this done on time. It really comes down to being able to play our game and making sure we're not missing anything."
Why then, with the current CBA set to expire Sept. 15, doesn't it seem as if the sides are making much progress?
They have been talking since late June, and it has been three-plus weeks since the owners' initial proposal that recently was updated to include expanded revenue sharing among teams.
But Don Fehr, the union's executive director, has said he cannot submit a counterproposal until there is a review of financial documents requested from the league. The first batch of 76,000 pages showed up Monday night.
Fehr then traveled to Europe to brief players there on negotiations, and the sides talked Wednesday in New York about training camp rules, pensions and the quality of ice surfaces.
That while the core issue — the owners' proposal to reduce the players' cut of league revenues from 57 percent to 46 or 43 (depending on the report) and roll back player salaries 22 percent (according to the Associated Press) — has yet to be substantively addressed.
"I think you can always wish it was further along," said Crombeen, who as part of the union's negotiating committee was at sessions Tuesday and Wednesday in New York. "Everyone wishes there was a deal in place now, but it's something that takes time to understand."
Asked if he believes owners are asking too much of players, especially after salaries in 2005 were rolled back 24 percent, Crombeen said, "Obviously, from a player's perspective you would always say that. But I'm sure the owners would always say the opposite."
"When they make different proposals, it's pretty easy to jump to conclusions," Crombeen added. "But instead of doing that, we've decided to take our time and really understand not just the numbers, but the reasons they're proposing what they are and where they're coming from."
A cynic might say this kinder-gentler tone is part of a clever plan by the union.
Fehr already has said players might be willing to start the season under the current CBA if negotiations are ongoing. That not only portrays the players as the good guys, it forces owners to think hard about the public relations disaster they would face for locking players out for a second time in eight years.
"The players are willing to look at the possibility of continuing to play while we continue to work on the details," Crombeen said. "That way, the players, fans, owners, anyone is not hurt by it, and we can continue to work and find common ground."
With six weeks until the CBA expires (and seven until Tampa Bay begins training camp Sept. 22 at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon), time is running short.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]tampabay.com.