NHL lockout 2012: Tensions rise as Bettman, Fehr return to bargaining table

Bruce Bennett

Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr will be in the room when CBA talks resume Thursday. Tensions are high.

The NHL and NHLPA have made considerable progress over the last 48 hours, but on Thursday, they'll break up the format that's brought so much optimism when Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr officially return to the negotiating table.

It's expected that other than the addition of Fehr and Bettman to talks, the groups will stay largely the same as they have for the last few days. It will be a relatively small group of both players and owners, and the hope is that as talks get more intense and more emotional, they're able to keep things on track.

As is natural when the stakes get higher, tensions are rising on both sides of the lockout aisle. Despite the optimism of the last several days, the sides are still well apart on a number of issues, from the length of the CBA to limits on contract term, and it's not going to be an easy process to get a deal done. But the simple fact that they're still meeting is a promising one, and it does seem as though the sides have come too far to let a deal slip away at this juncture.

When it comes to the money, the NHL has offered $300 million in "make whole" payments, splitting the difference between the $393 million the NHLPA had asked for previously and the $211 million the league had proposed. $50 million of that $300 million is targeted at pensions, but regardless, the gap between the two sides on the economic issues is no longer that large. It's workable.

On other issues, the NHLPA is apparently against a long-term, 10-year long CBA, but the league backing off their proposal to change free agency eligibility and salary arbitration rules is a win for the players. The players, however, are reportedly firmly against the proposed five-year term limit on contracts. That could be a major sticking point as talks move forward.

The PA is expected to answer many of these points when meetings reconvene Thursday afternoon in Manhattan. With Bettman and Fehr entering the room, the dynamic will change. Talks are moving to a private floor at the Westin Times Square, and media members are being kicked out of the building. Let's hope a lack of distraction helps the sides come together further and continue to work through their differences.

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