Some Good, Some Bad: Interpreting Key Signs

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FROM the perspective of a fan who wants to see the Winnipeg Jets-Carolina Hurricanes' season-opener here on Oct. 13, here's how to interpret events leading up to the NHL's labour stalemate that exists today.

This week's two meetings

The NHL and NHLPA met Wednesday and Thursday in Toronto. Sort of. Wednesday, the top two executives on each side met prior to a scheduled session, then scrubbed the session. The sides met on Thursday for almost two hours but "post-game" comments revealed that to be almost a waste of time.

Direction: Negative -- dire. Details are not being discussed publicly by the leaders of either side but there is no evidence whatsoever of any urgency or willingness to negotiate.

Continued mention of a magic date

That would be Sept. 15, the expiration date of the CBA that went into effect July 22, 2005 after a 310-day lockout and a lost season. Union executive director Donald Fehr continues to say that the date is not a "magic" one.

Direction: Negative -- ominous. If Fehr means there is no heat imposed by the date, he is likely in the minority. There are few who doubt commissioner Gary Bettman will impose a lockout then, and it's becoming obvious that fans, at least in Canada, are getting antsy about that timing.

Meetings are scheduled

They took place this week and the plan is that they will again in New York the next two weeks.

Direction: Positive -- There will be no deal when the sides aren't talking. The 2004 lockout saw a three-month dark period after the lockout began, a veritable catastrophe but revealing in terms of how entrenched each side was in its position.

August 2012

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman just comes out and says what everyone expects -- the players will be locked out if there is not a deal by the end of Sept. 15.

Direction: Mostly neutral -- Not a shred of surprise here, just confirming the owners learned their lesson from 1992, when the players went on strike for 10 days right before the playoffs, threatening to scuttle the entire season's outcome. That's not going to happen again. This year, the NHLPA has been saying once again it would be happy to start the season under the old rules, but that was a "fool-me-once" play if ever there was one.

July 13

The owners' initial offer gets the bargaining process into meat and potatoes, but also onto rocky ground. The proposal includes reduction in the players' share of HRR to 46 per cent from 57, five-year limits on contracts and 10 years of service before unrestricted free agency.

Direction: Not as catastrophic as most have thought. The outrage from some players, agents and commentators is overdone. Did they expect the league to start with a high offer? It was a very normal play by the league and just a starting point, a point that was missed by many. Still, the requests tabled confirmed that the owners weren't going to be softballing this negotiation.

June, 2012

Under the terms of the expiring deal, so that the league (both players and owners) can conduct business (i.e. award and sign big contracts), the salary cap is set at $70.2 million and the salary floor at $54.2 million.

Direction: Irrelevant in big markets; negative in all others. The cap and floor were about $39 million and $23 million when this CBA began and a floor that's 235 per cent what it was in 2005 is the most threatening state of the league's salary system. …