SBD/October 1, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 16: Weekend Negotiations Wrap Up With No Date Set For Future Meetings

The NHL and NHLPA "ended this weekend's labor negotiations Sunday afternoon with no firm plans to meet again after three straight days of talks," according to Katie Strang of ESPN N.Y. It had "been expected talks could carry over" to today, but the NHL "indicated it would like time to meet internally before returning to the negotiating table." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said, "We're not breaking off negotiations. We need a little more time to do some work. They have some more work to do, too." NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr said that it is "possible the two sides will resume discussions later this week, possibly Tuesday." Strang reported during yesterday's talks "none of the core economic issues was discussed." The two sides instead "focused on health and safety, operational and legal issues." Fehr said that the topic of hockey-related revenue, which "dominated Saturday's meeting, did not come up." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "did not speak" during yesterday's negotiations. Strang wrote, "With opening weekend slated to begin in less than two weeks, the specter of canceling regular-season contests appears to be a virtual certainty at this point" (ESPNNY.com, 9/30). In L.A., Helene Elliott noted the topic of player movement "has been a source of contention" during CBA talks. The NHL "has proposed extending entry-level contracts from three years to five or more and limiting free agency to players who have accrued 10 years’ experience." But the NHLPA "opposes both of those concepts." Steve Fehr said of yesterday's meeting, “It was a productive day. We made some progress in some areas. I would say it's good that we were talking. It's true that we could've done this last week or a week before or a week before that, but it's a lot better than doing it three weeks from now" (LATIMES.com, 9/30).

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: ESPN N.Y.'s Strang reported Bettman and Donald Fehr on Saturday "held a private meeting for the second straight day, while the larger group session centered on hockey-related revenue during labor talks between the league and union." Fehr said that the two "had discussed ways for the league and union to bridge the gap and make some progress on brokering a new deal." He said, "We're trying to discuss, 'How do we find a way to make an agreement? How do we bridge the gaps on the major issues that are between us?' The kind of things you'd hope we'd talk about." Strang reported during Saturday's larger group meeting "no numbers or percentages were swapped with respect to the share each side should receive -- the main sticking point causing the current impasse -- but there was dialogue to determine what exactly should be included as part of the pie that ultimately will be divided" (ESPNNY.com, 9/29). Former NHLer and NHLPA Special Assistant to the Exec Dir Mathieu Schneider on Friday said that "there were agreements on more rigorous drug testing, expanding it to parts of the year during which testing is not currently done." Schneider: "We’re in agreement that it’s not an issue in our sport. I think it’s in the players’ best interest as well as the sport to close off any possible time during the year where players could use" (AP, 9/29). 

DOLLARS & SENSE: The PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW wrote, "The biggest issue -- how the league and the NHLPA will divide future revenues -- wasn’t even discussed Friday or Saturday." Penguins RW and player rep Craig Adams said, "Obviously we know it’s the elephant in the room. That is what needs to be worked out. It’s the biggest obstacle standing between us and a new deal. I didn’t necessarily have expectations, but yeah, I’d be happier if we had made some ground.” With 16 days passing between the Sept. 12 meetings and this past weekend's CBA talks, Adams "hopes the delay isn’t that long before the next meeting." He "isn’t encouraged by the latest round of talks" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 9/30).

PLAYERS' POWER PLAY: In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote the players represent the "lone party to have offered concessions," but the responsibility falls on the NHLPA "to attempt to advance the stalled process, and that entails submitting a revised proposal to the league that will place owners' commissioner Gary Bettman on the defensive when and if he refuses to consider it." That means the NHLPA "is going to have to submit a long-term proposal under which the players’ share eventually decreases to the same 49-51 percent band the NBA players accepted last season if the NHL guarantees all existing contracts through their entirety at an escrow rate capped at no more than five percent and the systems issues are not overhauled." Brooks: "If good faith existed here, now would be the time for Don Fehr ... and the NHLPA to make the proposal that could save the 82-game schedule." But "it doesn’t." This is a "fast-track lockout with ... a drop-dead date already established by the Boardroom powers-that-be that could be as early as Thanksgiving" (N.Y. POST, 9/30).

IT HURTS ME TOO: In Tampa, Damian Cristodero wrote the holdup is perhaps because "neither side has felt real economic pain." Players "in a few weeks will get checks from the NHL equal to between 8 and 8.5 percent of last season's salaries." Players had 8.5% placed in escrow to "assure that as a whole, they did not make more than 57 percent of league revenue." Most of that money "is being returned." Signing bonuses "also must be paid, and injured players not cleared to play get their salaries whether the season is lost or not." Payments to satisfy contract buyouts "also are guaranteed." As for owners, it is "believed several will see a better bottom line if their troubled franchises don't have to pay player salaries." And the $200M "still being paid by NBC for TV rights is a nice cushion" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 9/30). In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa wrote when players begin missing paychecks, "we might see some grumbling among the rank-and-file." The stars "make money from endorsement deals." But for "most players, their NHL salaries are their primary source of income" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/30).

THE IRON FIST? In N.Y., Jeff Klein wrote Bettman is "definitely running the show." Critics "may point to the three lockouts that have happened under his leadership," but team owners "look at the bottom line and marvel at the job he has done." Bettman is "the undisputed captain of his team, ready to be as rough in the corners as he needs to be to win." He "may be up against another master negotiator in Fehr, but still, it would be hard not to bet on Bettman" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/30). In Detroit, Gregg Krupa wrote, "What encourages the owners and Bettman is the players have little power." Fans "never will undertake what the owners and Bettman long ago deserved: a boycott." Krupa wrote, "That theater of war allows the owners and Bettman to play the players and fans for patsies, and, other than their manifest incompetence, it is why they feel no need to approach the players with the merest tinge of cooperation or to consider the fans, at all" (DETROIT NEWS, 9/29).

FRUSTRATED INCORPORATED: In Ottawa, Tim Baines cited a poll as indicating that NHL fans "are mad as hell ... and apparently not going to take it anymore." More than 12,000 fans responded to the poll and "nearly 62% said they have had enough of this drama and will watch less hockey when the players return to the ice" (OTTAWA SUN, 9/29). Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Craig Custance noted Devils RW Krys Barch "strung together a 26-post-long Twitter message on his thoughts regarding the NHL’s lockout." Fueled by the "uncertainty of the future and a few drinks by a fire, Barch spilled the insights of the everyman NHL player" (ESPN.com, 9/30).

FIVE RING CIRCUS: The AP's Jim Armstrong reported the Int'l Ice Hockey Federation is "operating on the assumption that NHL players will take part in the 2014 Sochi Olympics." IIHF President Rene Fasel on Friday said, "We've prepared everything with the idea that NHL players will be there. We've decided about the format and expect them to be there." Bettman "has said no decision is imminent about possibly shutting down for two weeks to accommodate an Olympics in which some games would be played in the middle of the night in North America, thus affecting TV viewership and interest" (AP, 9/28).
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