Are we there yet? Not quite, but we could be closing in.
The NHLPA was expected to make a CBA counter-proposal Monday in New York as the union and the NHL go face-to-face in negotiations for the first time since early December.
"It's crunch time now. I think everybody knows that," Canes forward Anthony Stewart said Monday. "We're going to have to really make a push on both sides to try and get a deal done.
"The poker game is starting to play out here. Both sides are going to have to start showing their cards."
The NHL last week forwarded a new, 288-page proposal to the union that offered some compromise on contracting issues such as maximum lengths and salary variance. It also had the $300 million in the "make-whole" provision for player contracts and offered compliance buyouts for next season.
"The NHL has started to move a little bit closer and give some concessions back," Stewart said. "These next couple of days are really going to dictate how negotiations go. Hopefully the season will start."
The key issues still to be resolved are expected to be the length of the CBA -- the NHL wants a 10-year CBA and the union an eight-year -- and the salary cap for next season. The NHL has proposed a $60 million cap for 2013-2014, even though it could put a severe cap squeeze on a number of teams, while the union may propose something closer to a $67 million cap.
Another key issue: escrow payments. The league is opposed to capping the players' escrow payments. Without an escrow cap, the players would be asked to put up about 20 percent of their salaries next season if the NHL agreed to a $67.25 million cap.
Both sides met internally Sunday and there have been few public comments. NHLPA boss Donald Fehr has been mum, as has NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly has said little other than to note the league is expecting a "full response" to the NHL's offer today.
The NHL has said its offer is contingent on playing a 48-game regular-season schedule and starting the season no later than Jan. 19. There also is talk the season could begin Jan. 12 if a CBA can be approved this week.
"I'd like to be optimistic," Canes captain Eric Staal said Monday. "Obviously, some good feelings with them presenting a proposal. Now hopefully we can hammer it out and get it done."
Even in an abbreviated season of perhaps 48 games, Staal stands to lose a good chunk of his $8.5 million salary. That's a big hit. He has remained loyal to the union, to its solidarity behind Fehr, but it has been a frustrating time for the veteran center.
"It's almost January and we're not playing hockey and that's what we want to do," Staal said. "Unified or not, we're still not playing and that's the biggest thing to accomplish, getting back on the ice and getting the season started. ...
"I just hope they can get it done. Personally, there's not a lot of comments I can make right now that I think can help the process. We'll see what happens."
Staal was one of just three Canes players who were on the ice Monday at Raleigh Center Ice, along with Stewart and goalie Cam Ward. He admitted he did push himself a bit harder than usual on the last day of 2012, given the events in New York and the possibilities of the talks.
"I did and I'm hoping that matters," he said.