SBD/October 22, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 37: League, Union Enter Crucial Week Of Negotiations To Save Season

With just days remaining for the NHL and NHLPA "to strike a new collective bargaining agreement and preserve an 82-game schedule, deputy commissioner Bill Daly indicated that he felt there was a deal to be made," according to Chris Johnston of the CP. Daly yesterday was asked "whether there was a chance for the sides to get something in place by Thursday’s deadline." He said, “That’s more of a question for the union than it is for me. ... We think there’s a framework of a deal on the table." Johnston noted at "worst, the sides remain about US$550 million apart in the division of revenue over a five-year deal -- depending on which of the union’s three proposals is used and at what rate the business ends up growing." They could be "separated by as little as $320 million." NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr said, "There are multiple frameworks for a deal on the table" (CP, 10/21). The AP's Ira Podell noted reps from "both sides of the lockout had telephone conversations" yesterday. Daly in an e-mail wrote, "We had a conference call today to answer some of their questions. No bargaining. And no bargaining meetings scheduled." Daly said that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "didn't take part in Sunday's conference call" (AP, 10/21). In Toronto, Kevin McGran noted Donald Fehr has "outlined his latest three proposals in a letter to players." In his letter, Fehr "reminded players of the flaws as he saw them in Bettman's 50-50 proposal, which includes a lower salary cap (about $60 million) and a reduction in players' rights regarding free-agent status and length of contract." In addition, Fehr said that Bettman "told him that if the players accepted most of the NHL's last offer, he could make changes to the so-called 'Make Whole' provision, a controversial idea that ensures players get every penny of contracts they signed before the CBA expired" (TORONTO STAR, 10/21).

DEADLINE FOR A DEAL: In Buffalo, John Vogl noted if a new CBA is not reached by Thursday, a "larger portion of the schedule is expected to disappear." That "could include the New Year's Day Winter Classic" between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings (BUFFALO NEWS, 10/20). ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang cited a source as saying that the NHL is "expected to make much more significant cancellations by the end of next week if a deal is not reached." The players "will be receiving some payment soon, though, as the NHL and NHLPA have made official last season's escrow payable to NHL players" (ESPNNY.com, 10/19). In Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli noted the funds "will be released to teams on Oct. 23 and must be distributed to players before Oct. 30." Players were "supposed to receive their first of 13 twice-monthly paychecks for the season on Oct. 15." The second one "was slated to arrive on Oct. 30" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 10/20). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote, "So it comes down to this: a week, maybe less, to not just save a season but a game's reputation." What has been "most striking as this lockout lurches into its sixth week now is how precious little true negotiating has been done." Burnside: "Far too much time has been spent pontificating for the cameras, spinning and bad-mouthing and complaining and quiet sulking, and far too little time getting to work" (ESPN.com, 10/21).

FEHR EXPLAINS UNION'S STANCE: In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch noted during a one-on-one interview Friday, Donald Fehr explained "why it might be a long lockout." Fehr said of the way talks broke off Thursday, "It's clear the players are really disappointed. Here we are after massive concessions (in 2004-05) in the billions of dollars, followed by revenue growth that Gary and the owners have taken a lot of credit for, that the response is to say, 'We should have another round of concessionary bargaining and you should give us back more billions of dollars.' That oversimplifies the negotiations a little bit but not very much." Asked if the league's first offer in July galvanized the players, Fehr said, "The first offer, in our judgement and the players, was so over the top, so backward and so in your face, if you're asking me, 'Did that create a mood?' Sure. Of course it did. Couldn't be avoided. And, the movement away from it has been slow and grudging." Fehr said of players being called "greedy" after the NHL's 50-50 offer, "It's pretty hard to treat seriously the notion that the athletes, who are the only people who anybody comes to watch, that they would be greedy in the face of a 24% reduction in their pay last time; billions of dollars went to the owners, not the players; seven years of record revenues that was more than anybody thought" (OTTAWA SUN, 10/20).

THE PR WAR CONTINUES: Kings RW Kevin Westgarth said that his opinion "was that the NHL was following 'the script of what the NBA and NFL did' last year." He said, "It's not surprising to see the tactics used again and (Bettman) has done this for years -- try to force pressure with the lockout, which is unnecessary, and then basically try to sweat us for as much as they can. It was a good PR move and we all saw they have great PR people. ... They're using great people but there's not a lot of substance behind the style" (NEWSOBSERVER.com, 10/19). Westgarth added, "If Gary wants to treat this like the sky is falling, I'm very disappointed. He vastly overstated the difference between the sides, but I suppose he gets his good PR" (L.A. TIMES, 10/20).

PLAYING THE BLAME GAME: In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote Bettman is "threatening to blow all of the NHL houses down over a difference of about $3 million per team per season over the life of the six-year CBA proposal offered on Thursday by the NHLPA." The players are "asking the league to guarantee 100 cents on the dollar of all existing contracts when the players never had that protection in the expired CBA." So it is "there to be negotiated." It is "there for the league to propose paying 92 or 94 cents on the dollar, for the union to counter by asking for 96, for the parties to reach an agreement under which the owners live up to the spirit of a signed contract and the players don’t wind up paying deferred money to each other." Bettman "loves to cite the NBA and NFL within the context of the 50-50 split he now seeks." But it is "worth repeating again and again and again." The value of "existing contracts in those leagues remained untouched even as the players agreed to take smaller cuts of revenue after being locked out" (N.Y. POST, 10/21). In St. Louis, Jeff Gordon wrote if Bettman "allows a handful of strident owners to dictate the negotiating tone from his side, there will be no season." The owners "must realize, once and for all, that they must take responsibility for running their own franchises." They "can’t expect a stricter CBA to protect them from themselves." On the "other hand, if Fehr overplays his tough stance, there will be no season" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 10/20). YAHOO SPORTS' Ryan Lambert wrote, "All the PR spin in the world can't change the fact that it's the league, not the PA, that refuses to negotiate" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/19).

FEHR BRINGS A CERTAIN PRESENCE: In N.Y., Pat Leonard wrote while "no one from the league will say it, Fehr's presence at the NHL labor table is considered by some as much of a hurdle to a new collective bargaining agreement as any of the items being negotiated." The league "appears offended by Fehr’s reluctance to respond to details within the framework of the NHL’s proposals, opting instead to make counteroffers that recast the landscape under the players’ own terms." Finally, Fehr’s "slow dictating of the pace has irked the NHL." One reason Fehr is "ruffling so many feathers, though, could be that his tactics are working." Fehr’s "patience paid off and the NHL caved and made its 50-50 proposal on Tuesday, bringing a resolution closer even if it still feels so far away" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/21). ESPN.com's Craig Custance wrote there have "been times during negotiations where Donald Fehr's motivations have been questioned, which is natural when an outsider steps into a tight-knit sport and immediately holds so much power." There has to be "some reassurance in those offers to the NHL that Fehr is serious about a deal." But the owners "have to show more give" (ESPN.com, 10/19). In N.Y., Jeff Klein writes last week "was a dismal one" for Fehr and the NHLPA. Fehr said, "Players understand that this is something in which they all have to hang together." Klein notes Fehr has been "remarkably accessible to reporters, and he has kept his cool after difficult negotiating sessions with Bettman." Fehr, discussing his evolution as a negotiator said, "I'd like to think I am wiser, more measured" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/22).

STILL THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB? In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote the dismissal of former NHLPA Exec Dir Paul Kelly "set in motion a series of events." Fehr took over in December 2010, 16 months "after Kelly had been fired." From that point "until last month, a period of 20 months, Fehr declined to engage in any serious collective bargaining." On Thursday, he "walked into a significant meeting with several NHL owners 90 minutes late, plopped down two single sheets of paper, each with a different skeleton proposal to the owners that didn’t include any ideas on systemic issues, then verbally delivered a third proposal with no accompanying paperwork." For all three proposals, he "acknowledged to the owners he hadn’t actually 'run the numbers.'" This from "the leader of a union in a $3 billion business." The "intriguing question, more than three years after Kelly’s dismissal, is whether this entire episode in NHL-NHLPA bargaining would have unfolded differently had Kelly remained as executive director" (TORONTO STAR, 10/19). But the GLOBE & MAIL's Jeff Blair wrote, "Finally the players are getting precisely what they need. Somebody who is a technician; a professional negotiator first and lawyer second, who works only for them." NHL players will "have the best deal possible, and a more educated, involved players association with professional self-governance." That is "all Donald Fehr cares about." It is "all he should care about" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/20).

FANTASY LAND: In Edmonton, Jason Gregor wrote if NHL execs are "that arrogant and naive to believe fans will automatically come rushing back next season, then they are completely delusional.” For many fans, “their passion and love for the league will erode into a state of indifference” (EDMONTON, JOURNAL, 10/21). In Vancouver, Matthew Fisher wrote, "No matter how hard it tries -- and it is trying very hard -- the KHL will never by any measure best the NHL.” The KHL is “fatally hamstrung because too many of its rinks are small, ugly, faded glories and too many of its teams are in smallish one-horse towns hours away by air from their nearest rivals.” As a "consequence, only two or three of the KHL's 26 teams may break even." Most of the rest of them "lose tens of millions of dollars every year.” But the KHL is “not the only league in Europe.” While the NHL “bickers with its players and is stuck with half a dozen teams that appear to be terminally ill, hockey across much of northern Europe is flourishing.” The NHL is “totally missing opportunities in Europe and elsewhere because its leadership lacks imagination and continues to avidly pursue an American dream that few believe will ever happen” (VANCOUVER SUN, 10/19).
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