SBD/September 18, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 3: Donald Fehr "Puzzled" By League, Owners' Bargaining Tactics

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NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr "have spoken informally since the lockout began, and may do so" again today, though no formal talks are scheduled, according to John Kekis of the AP. Nothing "official will resume until at least Wednesday" between NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr. The two sides have not "met for face-to-face talks since last Wednesday" (AP, 9/17). Daly said, "I would hope we get together this week." In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch notes at last week's negotiating session in N.Y., the NHL "presented an offer the union flatly rejected" (OTTAWA SUN, 9/18). Donald Fehr yesterday said that he "was puzzled by the owners' bargaining stances." He said, "When you look at their original proposal, it was essentially to say we know players made enormous concessions last time, billions of dollars over the life of the agreement, and then they say we still have some trouble. Then they say everything is perfect except for the players' share numbers. And those two don't go together." USA TODAY's Kevin Allen notes Donald Fehr also "doesn't buy the NHL's stand that NBA and NFL players' acceptance of a reduced share is evidence his members should do the same" (USA TODAY, 9/18). Donald Fehr said that the union "hadn't modified or withdrawn any of its positions." Donald Fehr: "We haven't changed anything. The cap is still on the table. What I said in response to the commissioner's statement that their position might change and might get worse if a lockout began is that first of all, everybody always understand that, and secondly, that the players reserve that right, too. But no decision has been made in that regard." In L.A., Helene Elliott notes Donald Fehr also "disputed the NHL's statement Sunday that it 'has been, and remains, committed to negotiating around the clock,' saying the league rebuffed Steve Fehr's suggestion to talk until the lockout deadline." Donald Fehr said, "I just took it as complete and utter spin and not otherwise serious" (L.A. TIMES, 9/18).

PLENTY OF SUPPORT FOR FEHR: USA TODAY's Allen notes while the players "aren't sure what will happen next," they are sure Donald Fehr "is the right man to lead them." Sabres G Ryan Miller said Fehr is a "big reason why we will be much stronger than we were in the lockout situation (in 2004-05)." Players say there is "a 'wow' factor about Fehr, partly because of the reputation he gained in the baseball world and partly because he can handle any question that is thrown at him" (USA TODAY, 9/18). In Minneapolis, Rachel Blount writes the NHLPA "finally has an experienced, brilliant and fearless negotiator at its helm, one who understands both his constituents and his adversary." That is "good news for the players and potentially very bad news for those who just want the puck to drop." While the players "want to play," they also "want a fair contract, and they feel confident in Fehr's ability to secure one." That "unity, cultivated by Fehr's openness and clarity of purpose, gives the players a far stronger hand than they've had in past labor negotiations" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/18). Red Wings D Niklas Kronwall said of Donald Fehr, "He's amazing. ... He's done a great job making sure that everyone is informed." Red Wings G Jimmy Howard: "He always sends out a mass e-mail, or he sends a note to our app that we've all downloaded to our phone. ... He breaks it right down into layman's terms for us" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 9/18).

OWNERS CONTRADICTING THEMSELVES: In St. Paul, Ben Goessling notes it has "struck many as strange that Wild Owner Craig Leipold would bargain for reduced player salaries" after signing LW Zach Parise and D Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98M contracts this summer. But Leipold has "defended the moves by saying he was trying to work within the current rules to grow his business, rather than standing pat as the team lost money." Wild COO Matt Majka said he does not believe Leipold or GM Chuck Fletcher "were making decisions on what (the landscape) might be in the future" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 9/18). But in Denver, Adrian Dater wrote the "biggest Catch-22 part ... is this: the owners' utter hypocrisy leading right up to the lockout." More than $200M "worth of contracts were signed in the three days prior to the official start of the lockout." Owners "inked a great number of players to deal six years or longer just days before the lockout -- all the while Gary Bettman was telling the NHL Players' Association that owners wanted to limit all future contracts to five years maximum" (DENVERPOST.com, 9/17). Canucks D Kevin Bieksa said, "The problem isn't with us making too much, it's with them overpaying guys and creating their own problems. They can fix themselves without asking for rollbacks and concessions from us" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 9/18).

LOOKING INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL
: In Edmonton, Jim Matheson notes hockey agent Steve Bartlett "has been through three lockouts," but this one "has a far different feel to Bartlett from the last one." Bartlett said, "My gut tells me this is going to [be] weeks we're out, not months. I think the tipping point is (the American) Thanksgiving. That's six weeks or so after the season (is supposed to start)" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 9/18). Meanwhile, in Toronto, Joe Warmington notes former Maple Leafs Assistant GM Bill Watters "feels if a labour deal is not worked out with the players by Jan. 15, 2013, the NHL hiring non-union players could be the owners' prerogative and very well their next logical move." Watters: "There are enough free agents around and players under contract in junior, on reserve lists and in the AHL to ice a team in every city. It is conceivable. It wouldn't be a long-term thing but a union breaking move." But he added, "This is not my idea and I am not saying I like any of this" (TORONTO SUN, 9/18).

PLAYERS FLOCKING OVERSEAS: In DC, Katie Carrera reports several star players are "exploring their options overseas, an indication they don't expect the labor dispute to be settled anytime soon." Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin yesterday told Russian magazine Sovetsky Sport that he "believes the NHL lockout could wipe out the entire season." Ovechkin: "If the League (NHL) continues to insist on their (demands), then it will take a full year. That's because we are not going to cave in. Then I will spend the entire season in the KHL. It's an absolute reality." Capitals G Michal Neuvirth said that he would "have a contract to play in the Czech Extraliga" by today (WASHINGTON POST, 9/18). In N.Y., Pat Leonard cites sources as saying that Rangers LW Rick Nash is "close to a deal with Swiss A-League hockey club Davos." Sharks C Joe Thornton yesterday "announced his intentions to return as well to Davos, where he and Nash were teammates during the work stoppage eight years ago" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/18). Also in N.Y., Jeff Klein noted the KHL yesterday on its website announced that Devils RW Ilya Kovalchuk has "signed an agreement to play for SKA St. Petersburg" during the lockout. Stars RW Jaromir Jagr "will play for HC Kladno, the club he owns in the Czech Extraliga" (NYTIMES.com, 9/17). CAA Hockey co-Head Pat Brisson yesterday said that Kings C Anze Kopitar "will be playing for Mora IK of the Swedish league" (LATIMES.com, 9/17). Oilers RW Ales Hemsky is "preparing to return to the Czech Republic by the end of the week" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 9/18).

BEFORE YOU GO...: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun noted for "so many of these high-end players, insurance is such a factor" in playing abroad. A source said that KHL-bound Penguins C Evgeni Malkin will "need to pay about $250,000 per year for two years' worth of coverage on his $9 million salary, although it's believed the premiums will be paid monthly and can be cancelled without penalty once the NHL lockout is over." Still, it is a "huge chunk of change and that's why NHL stars will tread carefully before heading over" (ESPN.com, 9/17).
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