The NHL and NHLPA have been meeting for a couple days now, saying nothing to the media except that negotiations will continue. One of the biggest things the NHL and NHLPA are still divided on is the make whole proposal – that is, players being paid what their contracts originally said they’d be paid. When put in that language it sounds simple. Theoretically, it is simple, especially considering the fact that owners signed several players to 5+ year, $25+ million contracts right up until the last CBA expired this summer. Ryan Suter and Zac Parise, after all, signed as free agents with the Wild, both of them getting $100 million contracts. It’s fairly reasonable to ask why owners would allow such contracts to be signed if they had no intention of honoring them.
But to be completely frank, that’s an ideological argument that’s not really going to get you anywhere. The truth of the matter is that make-whole is something the owners and the players have been divided on since negotiations technically began, months ago, when the NHL and NHLPA were only meeting sporadically and spending at least as much time trying to sell their version of events to the press. It’s not a foregone conclusion, it’s an issue that’s actively being debated; and it is, unfortunately, something that’s seeing a lot of bad feeling going around for both sides.
Make-whole is important. Very important. But it’s important that it be settled to the relative satisfaction of both parties. This CBA will probably only be for six or seven years, and at the end of those years, we don’t just want to be doing this all over again. It’s essential that the NHL and NHLPA get their nonsense sorted, and that they figure out what, exactly, they’re doing, so that both sides don’t hold out next time out of dissatisfaction with how these negotiations ended up. In the last 20 years, the NHL has lost, more or less, two seasons (unless this season starts with remarkable alacrity, which is pretty unlikely).
There’s always going to be protracted negotiating when the CBA’s due to expire, but negotiation can, actually, start early and go fairly smoothly. In a world where athletes sign contracts a full year before their old contracts expire, it’s certainly possible to get the CBA figured out before the eleventh hour. As encouraged as I am by the continued closed-door talks, I’ll be most encouraged if both sides compromise without entirely capitulating. That speaks to a willingness to actually negotiate, and means both sides might not be out for blood next time around.