SBD/September 17, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 2: No Talks Scheduled, But Sides Open To Communication

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No NHL labor negotiations took place yesterday, the "first day of a stoppage imposed late Saturday by Commissioner Gary Bettman," according to Helene Elliot of the L.A. TIMES. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly talked to NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr yesterday, but Daly said that he "expected things to be quiet for the next 24 to 48 hours in deference to the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana." Training camps are "scheduled to open Friday and the first exhibition game next Sunday." In a message to fans, the NHL on its website said it is "committed to negotiating around the clock to reach a new CBA that is fair to the players and the 30 NHL teams. ... The league, the clubs and the players all have a stake in resolving our bargaining issues appropriately and getting the puck dropped as soon as possible." Many teams' websites "posted that message or similar sentiments from a club executive." The NHLPA issued a video on YouTube that features five players, including Penguins C Sidney Crosby, "sympathizing with fans and saying they want to play." Blackhawks C Jonathan Toews in the video said, "The goal here is to find something that's fair and reasonable and something we can instill for years to come where we're not going to have these problems down the road" (L.A. TIMES, 9/17). In St. Paul, Ben Goessling notes both the NHL and NHLPA "had said their pre-lockout offers would come off the table once a work stoppage began, and each side had continued to negotiate off its own proposal, rather than responding directly to the other party's offer, before the old collective bargaining agreement expired" Saturday at 11:59pm ET (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 9/17).

PASSED THE EXPIRATION DATE: In Toronto, Kevin McGran noted there was "no news release to state the league’s third lockout in 18 years was underway, no visual of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman making any official pronouncement." The two sides "talked a couple of times on Saturday," and Daly and Fehr "kept the lines of communications open through the phone." However, there was "no need for formal talks since neither side was budging off their core economic stances." Fehr said he, NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr and "several players on the negotiating committee were in the city and prepared to meet. The NHL said that it saw no purpose in having a formal meeting. There have been and continue to be private, informal discussions between representatives of both sides" (TORONTO STAR, 9/16). USA TODAY's Kevin Allen noted the "only official league acknowledgment was an item on NHL.com that time had passed and training camps wouldn't open until a new labor deal was reached." The word "lockout" or the "league's preferred term, work stoppage, wasn't mentioned." The website's front page "switched from the day's signings to memories of the 1987 Canada Cup" (USATODAY.com, 9/15). The NHL's online store "also pulled any player-related gear, and all jerseys for sale were blank early Sunday morning." The league "no longer has rights to use the players' marks" (ESPNNY.com, 9/16).

BACK TO SQUARE ONE?
In Buffalo, John Vogl noted negotiations now "will become even more difficult." Both sides "said concessions they made during talks would be off the table if the lockout hit." Panthers RW and negotiating committee member George Parros said, "Any negotiation going further, anything's off the table and anything could be put on the table" (BUFFALO NEWS, 9/16). In N.Y., Pat Leonard wrote though there is "more dialogue between the sides now than there was in 2004, they strongly disagree on how owners and players should split the league’s growing revenue pie." The parties are "still working with two completely different proposals for a new agreement, as opposed to simply quarreling over the details of one document" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/16). Leonard in a separate piece noted if the lockout "lasts eight or nine games into the regular season, players already will have conceded more money this season than they would have by accepting the NHL’s current offer -- a proposal Bettman said would be off the table once a lockout began." Past that, there is the possibility that Donald Fehr "would go after the NHL’s salary cap." The league "wouldn’t even begin to listen to that argument." If Fehr "takes that route, the only way a season could be saved would be if the players decided their labor leader was costing them too much and fired him." Otherwise, broaching a conversation "on the elimination of the salary cap almost certainly would shut down negotiations and lead to a cancelled season" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/16).

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa noted the NHL "should begin canceling preseason games shortly." It is possible the league "could push back the season-opening date to accommodate an 82-game schedule, but the NHL has been hesitant about extending the Stanley Cup Final into mid-June" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/16). In Pittsburgh, Shelly Anderson noted it is "believed that a full -- if perhaps compressed -- 82-game season could be salvaged if an agreement is reached by mid- to late October." However, Penguins RW and player rep Craig Adams "predicted that, even after the sides near some common ground, the process could take some time." Adams: "You're not just going to wake up one morning and it's going to be done. You're going to have an idea (at some point) of whether we're moving in the right direction or closer to each other. ... It's going to be more of a steady buildup. When that starts, and when we can get some traction, who knows?" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/16). The AP's Ira Podell noted a "sizeable chunk of games could be lost without productive talks soon." In jeopardy are "a couple of key dates on the calendar: the New Year's Day outdoor Winter Classic at 115,000-seat Michigan Stadium between host Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs; and the Jan. 27 All-Star game hosted by the Columbus Blue Jackets" (AP, 9/15).

MOMENTUM NO MORE: In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote the under the header, "Backward-Thinking NHL Shoots Itself In Skate." The "saddest aspect of this fiasco is the opportunity that has been forfeited by the league to break through the frozen ceiling under which it operates in the United States" (N.Y. POST, 9/16). In Boston, Stephen Harris wrote the NHL "has never been bigger in the USA than it is right now." Hockey HOFer Ray Bourque last week said, "It seemed like everything was going in the right direction and everything about the game was very healthy" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/16). In Newark, Steve Politi wrote under the header, "NHL Lockout Could Halt Sport's Momentum Once Again." Politi: "Only hockey could be this stupid." This is "sure to turn away plenty of those casual fans who, quite simply, just don't care enough" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 9/16). In Philadelphia, Sam Carchidi wrote the lockout is "on the verge of creating fan apathy that could haunt the sport for ages." If this lockout "lasts for long, Bettman's legacy won't be what he did for the owners or the game's growth." It will "be how he ruined the NHL for the fans" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 9/16). In St. Paul, Tom Powers wrote it is "just appalling that, as the two sides hunker down, there is virtually no concern for the poor saps who buy the tickets, especially after many of these same people came back, cash in hand, after the lockout of eight years ago" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 9/15). In Toronto, David Langford wrote to "some fans, this will be the death blow as they have promised never to watch the game again if the rich and richer cannot play nice in the ice-covered sandboxes known as the NHL arenas across our country" (TORONTO SUN, 9/16).

WHO IS TO BLAME? ESPN.com's Scott Burnside noted this "marks the third lockout under" Bettman. When locking the players out "at the risk of permanently impairing the game ... becomes your default position, that's not leadership, that's arrogance." The owners are "forcing the players into a corner by first demanding they drop from 57 percent of revenues to 43 percent, then moving up only slightly and trumpeting those moves as 'significant.'" If this was "a strategy that was designed to start the two sides on a path to the middle ground, it was ill-devised, especially understanding how the players would react given the last go-around." If it was "a strategy designed only to lead us to this point, well, that's just sad" (ESPN.com, 9/15). Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said, "Here's the scoop on the NHL lockout: Good guys with the white hats, players. Bad guys with the black hats, owners. It's pretty simple" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 9/16). In St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz writes under the header, "Bettman Betraying Loyal Hockey Fans" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 9/17). But in Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote the lockout is a "pox on the owners and the players, because $3.3 billion is a horrible sum to waste, and not continue to grow." Both sides "should have learned long ago how to maintain, shape, amend a relationship and its binding document that would avoid repetitive lockouts." Dupont: "For pros, these guys act like rank amateurs. All of them" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/16). In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote there is "too much messy history here, dating all the way back to [Former NHLPA Exec Dir Alan] Eagleson, and there’s precious little goodwill." Of all "the union executive directors that took the job over the past 20 years, only [Paul] Kelly really seemed intent on working with the owners." Bettman, meanwhile, has "completely abandoned the slightest pretence that he is a commissioner for everyone, not just the owners, that he has a responsibility to the sport beyond simply lining the owners’ pockets" (TORONTO STAR, 9/15).
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