Ending with a Foreboding Whimper
BOCA RATON, Fla.--These never were particularly stirring meetings, at least not when compared to recent NHL general manager gatherings that wera accompanied by shrieking outrage about violence in the sport.
But there is the proposed change to the icing rules - yet to be approved by the NHL Players Association - and there was the ruling on the eligibility of Alexander Radulov, who may yet join the Nashville Predators for the rest of this season and playoffs.
But it all came to a roaring halt on the final day when the elephant in the room - the Sept. 15 expiration of the league's collective bargaining agreement with the union - came up for discussion. Well, came up for questions from the media, at least, directed towards commissioner Gary Bettman.
"We've told the clubs to conduct business as usual," said Bettman. "As far as an update, there is no update. There's nothing going on."
No talks have been held, none are planned. All we really know is that on July 1st the salary cap is likely to jump from about $64.3 million to, possibly, in excess of $70 million, and that teams are going to have some very tricky strategic thinking on the part of the 30 clubs. How do you sign a free agent without knowing what the cap will be, if there will be another salary rollback or if there will be need limitations on so-called "backsliding" contracts?
Bettman says he doesn't know when talks may start.
"Ask the (union)," said Bettman. "We've been ready. But I'm not concerned. There's lots of time."
The union didn't have much more to say on that front.
"We are continuing to meet with players across the league as part of our preparations for the upcoming CBA negotiations," said NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon. "At our request, the NHL recently supplied the NHLPA with some initial financial information that we are currently reviewing. While we do not have a set-date for formal negotiations to begin, we expect negotiations will begin when we have players available to participate in bargaining sessions."
The last time the CBA expired, it wiped out an entire season. That was several NHLPA executive directors ago, and long enough ago that former players like Brendan Shanahan, Joe Nieuwendyk and Steve Yzerman have moved across the table from the union side to the NHL side.
The signs another lockout can be avoided aren't good. The union killed an ambitious realignment proposal several months ago, and efforts by the league to mimic what happened in other pro sports leagues and cut the players share of overall revenues to 50 per cent or less - the NHL is currently at 57 per cent - will be met by stiff resistance from the NHLPA, now led by former baseball union leader Don Fehr.
That said, the league and the union were able to agree on the status of Radulov, and there was a recent negotiated agreement on the definition and calculation of hockey related revenues (HRR) that suggested an ability of the two sides to work together.
Bettman wouldn't discuss what the new CBA could look like, or much about the current one and how it is working.
"The fundamentals of the system have done what we expected," he said. "I'm sure both sides are going to have issues they will want to focus on.
"Look, I understand the fixation on collective bargaining. But we're not even bargaining yet."