TORONTO - Salad had been served when the Blackberrys and iPods started vibrating at the Sports Media Canada awards luncheon here Tuesday.
The NHL had presented an offer to the NHLPA.
Gary Bettman was going to hold a media scrum two blocks away.
Normally, throughout my career, my timing has been stupid lucky for stories landing in my lap by miraculously being at the right time and right place. But being that I was there to celebrate that career and receive the Sports Media Canada Career Achievement award to, uh, kind of conclude the program, I figured maybe I ought not head for the door like the hockey writer sitting beside me.
Make no mistake. What happened here yesterday (not with me, but with the potential break in the lockout standoff) was a significant story.
For the past month there has been no movement at all. Hockey writers have been forced to write “no news today” stories day after day, while flying back and forth between New York and Toronto.
Bettman has sent out Bill Daly to do all the media scrum talking. The big scoop has been the first guy to tweet something about the next meeting between the two sides where “no news again today” will be the story.
So this one was a day they’d waited a month to chronicle.
It may be a false alarm with all the devils that may be in the details. But there was news, actual news.
Players’ lack of optimism of playing any time soon was illustrated by the number of them who headed to Europe in the last couple of weeks. Suddenly, you have to figure, the pace will pick up with those players. And in a place like Oklahoma City, where the Oilers’ young talents are about to open a five-game home-stand, you have to figure it’ll essentially be the Oilers training camp shifting to high gear.
This was indeed breaking news.
Not so much, it says here, because of the 50-50 proposal from the NHL. That to me was always the NHL owners’ endgame.
“Gary, the NFL and NBA have 50-50 deals. Go get us one,” I believe were the marching orders for Bettman from his owners.
The NHL’s 57-43 didn’t sit so well coming out of the salary cap the owners, and the rest of the hockey world, figured they’d won so big coming out of the last lockout.
No. It was the part about no rollback on existing contracts that will get the players attention.
The infuriating thing about this lockout to most fans is that it isn’t about a philosophical issue like a salary cap. It’s about a percentage.
Every paycheque lost by the players is the equivalent of one per cent of the big-picture number. So there was the expectation the NHL’s game plan was to take three or four paycheques into this thing to feel the effect.
A significant percentage of the owners have teams that have trouble breaking even in the first two months of the season due to U.S. College Football and the NFL.
But the key to this offer seems to be Bettman’s Nov. 2 start-up date with a full 82-game schedule. Players want to get all their money. And players want to play.
In there is the hope.
It’s mind-boggling why the NHL and NHLPA went through most of the summer without either side making a “starting point” move like this.
One thing that happened here with Bettman’s move was to change the optics in the good guys/bad guys image department.
The owners became the bad guys.
Now if the players don’t embrace the framework of this to move forward, they’re going to be wearing the black helmets.
There may be much negotiation ahead. But what happened here Tuesday should get them to it.
And with this move, hockey fans now have to be optimistic there’s going to be hockey, and soon.
Maybe not 82 games of it. But 72 would work.
And wouldn’t it be wonderful if Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz was inspired to follow this move and make a meaningful move, if not in person in front of Edmonton City Council today, at least something that everybody could agree was a move to get the Edmonton downtown arena deal back on track?
Maybe if Gary Bettman can get this lockout wrapped up quickly now he’ll have time to get Katz and Mayor Stephen Mandel back in his office in New York again. Worked the last time.