NHL owners and players will resume negotiations Wednesday in an undisclosed location knowing that the meter is running on the possibility of the 2012-13 season being canceled.
When negotiations broke off Thursday, Commissioner Gary Bettman said he had no cancellation date in mind. But he did say that he wouldn't play a season without "a representative schedule."
"If you back in history, in '94-95, we played 48 games. I can't imagine wanting to play fewer than that," Bettman said.
That 1994-95 season launched on Jan. 16, and the regular season stretched into May. The Stanley Cup Final was awarded to New Jersey on June 24.
Both sides seem to be working under the belief that a season could start about 10 days after an agreement is reached. The NHL has already canceled all games through Dec. 30, plus the All-Star game and the Winter Classic.
Here is a look at some of the issues that divide the parties:
CAPS ON CONTRACT LENGTH
The owners' last proposal suggested a five-year cap with an allowance of seven years for teams signing their own players. Players said they would accept an eight-year cap on individual contracts.
Explaining owners' position: The NHL is convinced that this proposal is simply a better business model for teams to use. When teams need to get loans from financial institutions, banks don't like to see the long-term commitments on the books. The NHL believes it affects franchise value to have financial commitments on the books for years up the road. The owners' proposal also embraces the idea that the longer you sign a player, the better the chance you have of paying him beyond his expiration date as a top player. Their proposal also theoretically provides a team with a better opportunity to keep their stars because they can offer players an extra two years. Also, the cap on contract lengths, coupled with the variance limit proposal, would have made it impossible for the Philadelphia Flyers to put the Nashville Predators in the position they were in last summer when they had to match a front-loaded offer sheet to keep Shea Weber.
COLUMN: Why there will be a season
Explaining players' position: Players don't favor any CBA clause that restricts players movement. They are also worried about preserving their middle class. Let's look at Zach Parise's case. He signed a $98 million deal last summer, with a cap hit of a little more than $7.5 million. If the owners' proposal was in place last summer, he probably would have received a five-year offer of $50 million to $60 million, a cap hit of between $10 million and $12 million. If the Minnesota Wild had signed him at that number, they could not have signed Ryan Suter with him. With stars likely pulling down more money, there would be less for teams to pay their third- and fourth-liners.
Overview: No one can be sure what would happen if a five-year individual cap because everyone was wrong when it came to predicting how the last CBA would work. Everyone predicted that stars' salaries would always be 20% of the cap and that never happened. But it's likely stars' salaries would rise under the owners' proposal. But we might not seem much impact on this immediately because many of the top stars are already signed long-term. Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, an unrestricted free agent next summer, is one star this would affect. Sidney Crosby's deal was $104.4 million over 12 years. That's an $8.7 million cap hit. Under the owners' current proposal, what would the Penguins offer Malkin? Do they offer him $8.7 million per season for seven years? That would be $60.9 million. The problem with that offer is that there likely would be a team out there that would give Malkin $60 million over five years. There are cases when the ability to hand out long-term contracts is beneficial to teams.
INDIVIDUAL CONTRACT VARIANCE
Owners want a 5% variance limit year-to-year on multi-year and players have countered with a proposal that on deals seven years or longer, the lowest salary must be at least 25% of the highest salary. The players' plan would also allow the league to charge a cap hit on teams when players are fit to play and don't fulfill their contracts. In other words, if teams add low salary years on a contract just to lower the cap hit and a player doesn't play those years, the cap hit will be recalculated and the team will charged that amount.
Explaining owners' position: The NHL views these back-diving contract is legalized cap circumvention.
Explaining players' position: Back-diving contracts allow star players to receive lucrative deals while keeping the salary cap hit lower for teams. The lower salary cap for stars means more money for the players' middle class.
Overview: It was a loophole in the last CBA, and some teams have exploited it and some have not. But if everyone has agreed to the salary cap, it certainly doesn't make sense to allow teams to find ways to defy the spirit of the cap.
Owners seek a 10-year deal, with an opt-out clause at eight years, while players have suggested an eight-year deal with a six-year opt-out.
Owners' position: Long-term deals provide league stability and could help appease sponsors and fans who were miffed by the lockout.
Players' position: New players arrive every season, and they should have a say in their working conditions. Plus, they say it's difficult to predict the economics of the NHL beyond five years.
Overview: Although players support the NHLPA position, it sure seems like most players actually favor a long-term deal because they don't want to go through another lockout in their career. This is clearly the easiest place for players to give ground.
Owners are opposed to amnesty player buyouts or escrow caps to help teams get under the new cap this season and players would like to see them.
Owners' position: They don't want any dollars paid outside the cap system
Players' position: Players have always despised the escrow system, which is used to assure that players and owners receive their agreed-upon share of revenue. Players put part of their salaries into escrow, and if players end up receiving a higher percentage then allowed, owners keep some of the escrow. The remainder is returned with interest. If players don't receive enough money, then owners must make up the difference. It's a practical system, but players still hate seeing the money come out of their check. Plus, players want a cap on escrow because they are fearful at what hockey-related revenues may be in this season. Players would like buyouts because it would open up more cap space for teams to sign players.
Overview: With owners seemingly entrenched, there is work still be done.