November 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Gregg Krupa

Keeping NHL owner-player talks private the best hope for a settlement

For once, NHL fans should hope boredom, scarce information and little news are on tap.

Those are the best hopes for the coming days and, more likely, weeks of negotiating likely required before the owners and players reach a collective bargaining agreement.

If anyone thought restarting formal negotiations Tuesday, after a long series of fits-and-starts, meant an agreement is near, they are bound for disappointment.

But if the owners and commissioner Gary Bettman still are talking with the NHL Players Association through the end of this week and there are few leaks about their negotiations, it means things are progressing, however slowly.

In fact, if it is the same story a week from today, it will be even better news.

The point is, while the broad outlines of a new collective bargaining agreement were clear months ago, both sides still confront a thicket of issues requiring hard negotiations and escalating trust.

But if they should stop without an agreement in the next few weeks, the season is likely gone.

Compared to that, monotony and secrecy are eminently desirable.

If the sides keep talking a lot privately and not much publicly, they could reach an agreement in the next few weeks.

That timing might provide for a 70-game schedule.

Question of trust

Because the issues remain both sizeable and too numerous for quick resolution, patience is required, including from a lot of ancillary businesses, waiters, waitresses, bartenders, souvenir salesmen and parking lot owners hanging on every word and desperate for an agreement.

The major issue is how players will be "made whole" if they agree to defer payments on salaries already negotiated with owners. Reportedly, when owners agreed to discuss helping with those costs — as opposed to making the players, in effect, pay each other on a deferred basis — the talks got going again.

But considerable creativity and enormous trust are required of both sides to agree on precisely how those deferred payments will be structured to allow the owners to keep more revenue and the players to earn all their money.

There was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction coming from the players Wednesday.

They still are not seeing as much as they'd like from the owners on the so-called "make whole" provision.

But, players, like the fans, must remain content with the simple fact that the talks are continuing, despite the difficulty of the issues at hand.

That is especially true because the "make whole" provision is not the only significant issue.

Giving in

Once the total revenue is split 50-50 and the players are made whole, what remains are issues like the owners' demand for a five-year maximum length for contracts, revenue sharing, entry-level contracts that last two years instead of three and unrestricted free agency beginning at age 28 or after eight years of service.

All would require significant concessions from the players.

So, why is there hope?

In the seventh week of the lockout, negotiators for both sides now may face considerable pressure from their constituents to get a deal done.

Because the sides started talking again and remain at the table, it may well be that the more reasonable owners are speaking up, finally.

And it also may be that the players have made it known they want an agreement, and soon, despite the owners' hard line.

If this does not feel like the end, it is because no end is yet in sight.

But it may well be that it looms just over the next few hills, and that both sides get there over the next two or three weeks.

gregg.krupa@detnews.com

Todd Bertuzzi takes part in a workout with other Red Wings at the Troy Sports Center on Wednesday. Meanwhile, negotiations to end the NHL lockout are ongoing. / David Guralnick/Detroit News