By Kevin Allen - USA Today
Now that NHL owners and players are aggressively trading offers and counter-proposals like they are sincerely trying to save the 2012-13 season, they are exactly where fans want them to be.
They just arrived three months later than we expected.
Tuesday's wave of optimism about the possibility of working together to end the lockout with a new collective-bargaining agreement gave way to Wednesday's tug-of-war on the issues necessary to get it done.
On Tuesday, the two sides needed finesse play to point negotiations in the right direction. On Wednesday, they had to start grinding it out and resolving significant differences. Excluding the dinner break, the sides talked for nine hours, finally wrapping up before 1 a.m. ET and vowing to resume on Thursday.
The two sides began negotiations shortly after 2 p.m. ET with a new NHL Players' Association offer. Owners left to discuss it, and they came back a few times, presumably to talk about the offer. Neither side is saying what is happening in the negotiating sessions, but the foot traffic certainly had the look of two parties going back and forth on the issues.
"We had a series of candid discussions," Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey after the talks ended for the night.
One new twist that did emerge on Wednesday was the news that owners had, on Tuesday, floated the idea of the new CBA being a 10-year deal with an out clause after eight years. It was known that owners were interested in a lengthy deal. The NFL and NBA negotiated 10-year deals with their players. However, the NHL owners' most recent offer was a six-year deal, and the NHL players' offer the day before Thanksgiving called for a five years.
NHL owners met Wednesday in their annual board of governors meeting, which this year consisted only of an update on negotiations.
Usually, Commissioner Gary Bettman would give a lengthy news conference on the state of the game. Out of respect for the new momentum the two sides have found in negotiations, Bettman chose to say very little.
As happened Tuesday, Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr stayed out of Wednesday's negotiating sessions, although they remain heavily involved in what's happening. Both men met with their groups when they having internal meetings, which happened often on Wednesday.
The two sides got to a good place on Tuesday because there were new voices in the process on both the owners' and players' side. Those voices helped create a new work environment and helped everyone at least line up on the path toward a new deal.
But as was expected, the gather-round-the-campfire feeling on Tuesday was replaced by true negotiations. That means heavy lifting, the reopening of old wounds and tough talk.
When the two parties took their dinner break, it certainly seemed as if the night session would be crucial. Owners walked into the room, left after 15 minutes and then returned after another 15 minutes. The back-and-forth continued throughout the night.
What needs to be remembered here is that negotiations are never intended to be smooth sailing.
They entered this week battling over a $182 million difference in transition payments, arbitration rights, free agency qualification and the owners' desire to cap all contracts at five years. Those are issues that don't get settled without everyone feeling some pain. You have to feel as if you have been lashed to the mast during a violent storm when you complete negotiations. That's just the way it is.
We've been trying to get the two sides together for three months. Now we have to let them dance.