NHL Lockout 2012: Critical Meeting Between NHL And NHLPA Will Show How Far Away Hockey Really Is

The NHLPA is set to give their counter to the NHL's offer today. And what happens in today's talks will go a long way to see if fans will have hockey this season.

The NHLPA is expected to give a counter proposal when the two sides meet at 1 p.m. today in Toronto. Optimism is springing up from the fact that the NHLPA is willing to counter so quickly, and while that is a good sign, how the NHLPA counters is what really is going to set the tone for whether or not there is hockey this season. Or, at least, how soon before we see them on the ice.

If Donald Fehr and the NHLPA give an offer to Gary Bettman and the owners today that's within the framework of the offer the NHL gave on Tuesday, then we're going to see seven days of tough negotiations, but progress. That would be an idea situation, one that practically guarantees hockey this year.

But if Fehr comes back with another revised offer from the NHLPA's original proposal, well, I have a feeling you can forget about hockey this season at all. The NHL won't take kindly to Fehr spitting on Tuesday's proposal (the first real movement from either side since September) and it will only raise the blood pressure of the negotiations -- which is a great way to get nothing done.

So what happens now? It's up to Fehr.

In my opinion, the smartest thing Fehr could do is leave the percentages about the same (or maybe give the players a 52% split the first year and 51% the second year before going down to 50-50 for the remainder of the CBA) and in return for taking a significantly smaller percentage wipe out the max contract lengths and years of service before becoming an UFA.

There are obviously other big issues on the table, but those are probably two of the biggest when it comes to the NHL's offer. That, and the definition of HRR, but apparently that hasn't changed.

We're close to hockey, guys. For now. But if Fehr walks through the door with an offer that essentially rejects the NHL's offer? Get ready for a long winter, because we're not going anywhere soon.