What are the contract issues holding up NHL, NHLPA lockout settlement?

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On the surface, this is progress.

The National Hockey League Players' Association requested a meeting with the NHL. The players presented their positions on several issues — unwavering, it seems, from previous recitations — and the NHL asked for clarity on a few core economic issues, as well as for the NHLPA to hand it a complete new proposal for the next session.

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Viva la negotiation!

… or not. We're still at a stalemate between the two sides because (a) the NHL believes the players haven't budged on their wants and desires in these talks and (b) there are members of the NHLPA that are still inherently distrustful of the league when it comes to major concessions, thanks to the owners taking a mile back in 2004-05 when Bob Goodenow conceded an inch.

"It's our position that we've made a couple of comprehensive proposals in a row. We'd like to know where they are on all the issues. We asked them to think about putting together a comprehensive proposal for us to consider," said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly after Monday's session in New York.

"We've never heard a full proposal from them. Certainly, they've given us a variation of the same proposal on economics a couple times. There's been no change."

What the NHL wants: For the NHLPA to address four specific areas of player contracting in a new proposal.

Daly said there's a lot of "misunderstanding" when it comes to contracting issues. "I think we moved a lot on our contracting issues already."

Well, of course the league did, from that titanic blunder of an initial offer.

"Not just from our first proposal. Over time," said Daly, his volume rising. "Listening to what they were interested in, things that they were concerned about, we fed those into our proposals. So we've moved a lot on the player contracting issues already.

"What we've identified are four specific areas we want to address in player contracting. Our proposal addresses those. If you come up with different ways to address those, we're willing to listen."

What are the four specific areas?

1. Cap circumvention in which contracts are buried outside of the NHL, be it Wade Redden in the AHL or Cristobal Huet in Europe.

2. Cap circumvention on long-term deals that front-load salaries and then "back dive" later in the contract, with annual salaries dropping by a large percentage in order to influence the cap hit.

3. There is $5.7 billion in future contractual liabilities to players, i.e., long-term contracts that have already been signed. How can NHL owners deal with those commitments and still have the freedom to, for example, refinance their stakes or sell the team?

4. Rewriting the contracting rules for young players, from contract term to arbitration rights. The idea is to shift the money from a player's "Second Contract" to his third contract. It's a way to create a little more fiscal sanity when it comes to big money thrown at still unproven players. It's also not a money-grab by the NHL — rather, it shares the wealth with established players in a way the system doesn't encourage at the moment.

So that's what the NHL wants the NHLPA to address … after the sides deal with other issues.

What's clear at this point is that the NHL believes core economic issues need to be settled in order for "contracting issues" to be on the table. Partially because the league sees these two points tied together, but mostly because concessions on economics will yield concessions on contracts.

Via the New York Daily News, Donald Fehr was asked if the NHL was unwilling to discuss contract issues:

"No, we wanted to — our position all along has been on the player contracting issues that they become considerably more important to players as the cap becomes limited, and that we've made proposals in a couple of these areas in this regard which move towards them, but we wanted to talk about the rest of these to see where we were. And we indicated to them last time we met, and again today, that if we put aside for the moment the effect of the lockout on revenues, we didn't think we were too far apart on the share, and if that was right we could back into a discussion on the revenues.

"But we wanted to know where we were on the player contracting stuff first, and they were unwilling to do that, at least tonight. But we're gonna think about what was said, and we'll consider what to do next."

The next move for the NHLPA could be a full proposal, or it could address specific issues. Whatever it is, there needs to be progress soon; the good news is that there seems to be a sense of urgency. For once.

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