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Sports Commentary 11/6/12

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On Election Day, there is a shimmer of light that there might be an NHL Season ??

So far the issues remain the same, it’s a feeling of optimism that came out of informal talks over the weekend that’s driving the resumption of National Hockey League labor talks today in New York. Those weekend talks were between the number two men on both sides, associate commissioner Bill Daly representing commissioner Gary Bettman, and Steve Fehr, representing his brother and union chief Donald. An attitude of cooperation is the least it would have taken to get the big guys back to the bargaining table after the contentious manner in which they broke off talks after a short session on october 18th. That session opened amid optimism that the players would see some wiggle room when the owners put a 50-50 revenue split on the table. Fehr crunched the numbers for the players, showing losses on their side totalling more than a billion and a half dollars over three years, and they opened the session with a swift refusal of the owners proposal before presenting three counter offers, which Bettman angrily stormed out on in a matter of minutes. When they return to the table today there will be some hope on the owners side that their 50-50 proposal might still be a starting point. For the players to be in any mood to listen to that proposal again there will have to be favorables that fall into place from the other side of the table, the first of which would probably be the “make whole” proposition on players contracts, meaning those contracts would have to be paid in full, 100 cents on every dollar. As in any negotiation every take has to come with some give and the owners aren’t likely to budge on their reported desired changes to the entry level contracts and the terms of unrestricted free agency, adding a year to each. Entry level currently covers three years while unrestricted free agency is determined on two levels, years of experience, currently seven, or age, currently 27. Many of these issues are double edged. Not only must the union be willing to offer some give, as on the 50-50 proposal, where the owners had been looking for a players percentage reduction to forty seven, in turn for the “make whole” concession, there will have to be some give and take between owners. While there is no revenue sharing on the table, which might create a civil war between owners, the “haves” will be asked to take a step toward the middle to find equal ground with the “have nots” in terms of adjustment to AHL contracts, which will put the two ends of the ownership spectrum on more equal footing, reducing the margin for error the “haves” currently enjoy when it comes to signing player contracts. The issues haven’t changed drastically but something happened on Saturday to generate some optimism that there’s room for give and take on some of them. Which ones and how much now become the critical questions. With the “Winter Classic” already cancelled and the hopes for any season, no matter how truncated, hanging in the balance, optimisim is a fragile thing. It can disappear as quickly as it appeared. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.

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