NHL, union slated for 2nd straight day of talks

Associated Press
Alexander Ovechkin from Dynamo Moscow controls a puck during the KHL ice hockey match against Lev Praha in Prague, Czech Republic, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. Chara and Ovechkin are among those NHL players who were signed by European clubs because of the NHL lockout. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
.

View photo

Alexander Ovechkin from Dynamo Moscow controls a puck during the KHL ice hockey match against Lev Praha …

NEW YORK (AP) — At least they are still talking.

That seemed to be the best thing that could be said on Wednesday after the NHL and the players' association met for about five hours on the first of at least two straight days of talks in an effort to work out a deal to end the monthlong lockout.

Although it has been a week since the NHL called off the first two weeks of the regular season, that sting will be felt full force on Thursday when what should have been opening day goes by the wayside without a puck hitting the ice.

The sides met twice on Wednesday and will get back to the bargaining table on Thursday. If things go well, or if the scheduled work can't be completed, there could be another day of talks Friday.

Any bit of optimism at this point would be embraced.

"I think we're making progress in a number of the areas that were discussed, which include health and safety, drug testing issues, medical care," NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said. "They were good discussions. It's a shame that they are going on in the midst of a lockout when we could be doing it while we're playing, or we could've been doing it a month ago or two months ago."

The NHL's top two executives — Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly — met with the NHLPA's main negotiators — executive director Donald Fehr and his brother Steve — for nearly an hour Wednesday morning to assess where the sides were on Day 25 of the lockout, but there were no concrete discussions on the troublesome core economic issues that are preventing a deal from being struck.

A four-hour session stretched into evening and included miscellaneous legal topics. The health issues involved seeking multiple medical opinions on injuries, and who should make determinations when a player is healthy enough to return to action after being hurt.

"We have some disagreements in those areas," Daly said. "When you get to this point of the discussions on some of those areas, that is to be expected, so we're kind of refining some of the things we continue to have disagreements on.

"We had no discussion of the major economic issues or system issues, so that continues to be a disappointment from our perspective."

There are still no plans to delve into how the sides will split up hockey-related revenue that was in excess of $3 billion last season.

"You often don't know whether you're making progress until you look back on it," Steve Fehr said. "We were just sort of discussing the overall status of the bargaining and where the parties are."

The NHL is eager to get a new proposal from the union on the main economic issues, but the players contend that they have moved closer to the league's demands in their previous offers while the NHL has only sought to take more away from the union in each proposal it has made.

"I wouldn't say (talks) are dead in the water," Steve Fehr said. "The sides are in constant communication. I think we have a pretty good sense of where each other is."

However, Donald Fehr has floated the idea that the longer the lockout goes on, the players might seek to make an offer that doesn't include a salary cap — the very issue that led to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season. The collective bargaining agreement that finally ended that lockout seven years ago expired last month.

"None of those comments were a surprise to me," Daly said. "If that is the direction they choose to go in, that's up to them. I don't make the decisions for them. They've suggested they want to get the players back on the ice soon. I can pretty much assure you if they make that proposal, it won't get the players back on the ice soon."

If discussions don't get jump-started soon, more games will be wiped out.

For now, Daly and the NHL just want to hear something new from the union.

"We're trying to think of ideas to move the process forward," he said. "Our message to the players' association was we're encouraging them to make a proposal. We hear, we understand that they have been working on some concepts, some ideas. We've suggested to them to just make the proposal.

"Any movement is better than no movement at all. If we move sideways, hopefully we move it forward. But even if we move backward, it might be better than where we are now."

These were the first negotiations since the sides held an unannounced meeting in Toronto on Friday to discuss where they were and how to advance the talks.

Last week, the NHL canceled — at least temporarily — 82 games from Thursday through Oct. 24.

Daly estimated the NHL lost $100 million from the cancellation of the entire preseason and another $140 million to $150 million with the regular-season losses.

"It's unfortunate for both of us," he said. "It's a significant amount of money that the players share in on a significant basis. Whatever that percentage ends up being, it's a significant basis.

"Even more disappointing from our collective perspective is we felt like over the last seven years we've built up a lot of momentum in the business. We've had a lot of growth, and who knows what a work stoppage from this will do to our momentum."

One victory was achieved by the NHL on Wednesday when the Alberta Labor Relations Board ruled that the lockout of players from the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames can continue.

The board said declaring the lockout illegal in the province wouldn't help the league and its players reach a settlement. The players had argued that the Oilers and Flames are Alberta businesses and as such, must abide by provincial labor rules.

"We're disappointed, obviously," Steve Fehr said. "We thought we had a strong case. It's a bit of an odd decision in that the labor board found that its powers were permissive instead of mandatory.

"They didn't say we were necessarily wrong on the law, they said they just chose not to get involved. We think that is unfortunate. We think they should've gotten involved. Obviously it's a win for the league and they get to continue the lockout they want so badly without any interference from the Alberta labor board."

Daly said the entire case was irrelevant to the bargaining process that will be necessary to reach a deal.

"It was really a distraction to the process," he said. "It wasn't good-faith bargaining. It didn't move the good-faith bargaining process forward."

View Comments (1)