Heading into two days of talks in New York, the sabre rattling (could be Rangers, Flyers or Wings rattling, too) continues on the part of the National Hockey League Players Association.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr repeated his doomsday threat that the players could take the salary cap off the table depending on how long the NHL lockout drags out.
It's not a new public threat. It was raised in New York Sept. 13, when talks between the two sides first broke off after a day of bargaining and then a day of the two sides meeting separately to assess their positions.
It's apparently an option he raised numerous times over the course of the summer with the owners before it became a public talking point a month ago.
When asked then if the players would reconsider playing under a salary cap after the NHLPA meeting broke up that day in New York, Fehr replied: "What I have said before and the only thing I am prepared to say now is that if we get past that point, then the players are as free to reconsider their positions as the owners. That's all I can say."
That kind of rhetoric can't be doing anything to lighten the mood heading into meetings in the Big Apple, where the non-core economic issues will continue to be the topic on the long road to finding some common ground that will eventually end Lockout 3.0.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly are expected to have a separate meeting with Fehr and his brother, Steven, the NHLPA's special counsel, Wednesday morning. The entire group of suits will convene in the afternoon and again Thursday.
So when it comes to reworking positions, what would the owners consider?
If the NHL owners ever wanted to get into the "back to the future" type of threat employed repeatedly by Fehr, how about a new system that doesn't have guaranteed contracts? It seems to work for the NFL.
How many times have you looked at a spike in a player's performance after two or three years of mediocre performances and then realized, oh, yeah, he's in a contract year?
You don't think there would be just a slight uptick in that player's performance in the middle of a four- or six-year contract if there was the chance come, say, July 1, the owner signing his paycheque had the option of walking away from the deal and letting the player become an unrestricted free agent?
Everything is on the table, so maybe the NHL wouldn't even have to grandfather in the guaranteed deals that are already in place. The comfy security of a 13-year contract might all of a sudden have a "best before" date on it.
Never mind the agony of escrow.
How about: "You're done. Go see if there is some other owner out there who will give you the $16.5 million I've paid you over the last two years for your nine goals and 40 assists in 118 games, Scott Gomez."
Certainly if the NHLPA's threat becomes reality and their proposal (assuming we see another one) abandons a hard-cap system, we are likely going to be without hockey for more than one season.
Indications from the league side in conversations over the the last month or so, whenever the topic has come up, is there is no way NHL owners will go back to an uncapped system.
But it's apparently all we've got right now.
FIVE LOUSY NHL CONTRACTS
The National Hockey League Players Association has indicated that if this lockout drags on, there is a possibility the players would no longer stand for a salary cap and take the cap system off the negotiating table.
If the owners wanted to play the same game and throw a bomb on the table, how about getting rid of guaranteed contracts? If a guy had a big bucks contract and wasn’t producing, the owners could just walk away from the contract.
Here are the contracts of five underperforming forwards NHL owners would have probably liked to take back.
1. Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning. The flagging forward was due to make $10 million in each of the next four seasons before the lockout descended (his deal declines in real dollars after the 2015-16 season). Since a career-high 52 goals in 2006-07, goal totals have declined steadily to just 22 last season.
2. Scott Gomez, Montreal Canadiens. The favourite whipping boy of Habs fans, he made $7.5 million last season and scored two goals in 38 games. The good news is he was only slated to make $10 million over the last two years of his deal ($5.5 million and $4.5 million) though his cap hit would remain at $7.35 million (and change), 13th highest in the league, according to capgeek.com.
3. Dustin Penner, Los Angeles Kings. He showed signs of turning things around in the playoffs under coach Darryl Sutter, but a cap hit of $3.25 million for seven goals and 10 assists in 65 games would have made him a candidate for the walkaway.
4. Dany Heatley, Minnesota Wild. The former 50-goal scorer, ranked 10th in highest cap hit last season ($7.5 million), was 60th in the NHL last season with 24 goals in 82 games. That's coming off a season of 26 with the San Jose Sharks. He's got $11 million left over the next two years of his deal.
5. Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres. Leino pulled down $11 million last season ($6 million salary and $5 million signing bonus) and had eight goals and 17 assists. He was due $10 million this season ($6 million salary and $4 million signing bonus). Can't blame the guy for taking it. Can't blame the Sabres if they regret it and would like a do-over.