SBD/October 24, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 39: League Dismisses NHLPA's Invitation To Return To Negotiations

Following a conference call by the NHLPA's exec board last night, the union told the NHL it is willing to meet tomorrow "or any other date, without preconditions, to try to reach an agreement," according to a union statement cited by Ira Podell of the AP.  But NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in an e-mail wrote, "I don't anticipate any (talks) taking place for the balance of the week. ... We see nothing to be gained at this point by meeting just to meet." NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr replied in a statement, "The league is apparently unwilling to meet." Podell wrote, "Forget about a deal to save a full hockey season: the NHL and the players' association can't even agree to get together to talk" (AP, 10/23). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote the NHLPA "says it has invited the NHL back to the bargaining table as long as there are no strings attached." But the NHL's response "was swift." Daly in a separate e-mail wrote, "They have made it clear to us that they have very little interest in the proposal we made last Tuesday. They also told us they have no intention of making a new proposal. I'm not sure what we would be meeting about." Daly earlier yesterday said, "We made clear at our meeting on Thursday that if the terms of the 'Make Whole' [proposed player-contract provision] is something they wanted us to negotiate over or address, we're more than happy to do it." NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr yesterday said, "We are willing to meet and discuss that and anything else without pre-conditions. ... But one side does not get to define the agenda." Daly: "We told them while there was only limited flexibility, the offer was not presented as a 'Take it or leave it'" (ESPN.com, 10/23).

STATE OF TALKS: CSNPHILLY.com's Tim Panaccio wrote yesterday's back and forth was "a truly bizarre turn of events" (CSNPHILLY.com, 10/23). The two sides "have not met for five straight days" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 10/24). In DC, Katie Carrera wrote it "appears as though the negotiations have stalled again just days before the league's deadline to save an 82-game season" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 10/23). Daly in an e-mail wrote, "Looks like we'll have to regroup and go back to the drawing board. Extremely unfortunate, but even more unfortunately, very predictable." In Minneapolis, Michael Russo wrote the '12-13 season "is in dire straits if major headway isn't made in the next 24-48 hours" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 10/23).

PHONE A FRIEND: In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch writes NHLPA officials "were frustrated and upset" after learning the NHL had given permission to owners and GMs to answer player questions during a 48-hour window last week concerning the offer made last Tuesday by the league. The move by the league "caused an even larger divide on the matter of trust that exists between the two sides." It is "not known how many players actually took up the NHL on its offer to speak with owners and GMs." There were "some, but there were also agents who took the chance to ask questions of league executives." Daly: "Players were asking questions. Clubs wanted the ability to answer those questions. We gave them that ability within a limited time period. End of story. Non-issue." Donald Fehr last night held a conference call with players "to find out exactly what happened." Sources said that Fehr "used the call to find out which players spoke with management because it wasn't clear how many had taken part" (OTTAWA SUN, 10/24). The CP's Chris Johnston wrote "distrust continues to creep into" the stalled talks. It was "unclear how many players were contacted during the 48-hour window." But one GM "acknowledged privately that he chose not to speak with his players because he felt uncomfortable doing so" (CP, 10/23). Senators GM Bryan Murray in an e-mail said in the case of his franchise, "no contact was made by either side" (OTTAWACITIZEN.com, 10/23). In Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli cites a source as saying that Flyers GM Paul Holmgren "did not speak with his players about the lockout because of the delicate and uncomfortable subject matter" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 10/24).

FIELDING THE QUESTIONS: YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote, "Clearly the NHL is frustrated and tired of its message passing through the Fehrs' filter." That explains why the league "would attempt an end-around." Cotsonika: "Was it necessary? That depends on whether the Fehrs have been giving inaccurate or incomplete information to the players about the league's proposals, and so that depends on whom you talk to, whom you believe. Was it effective? Was it worth it? We'll see." The move "seemed sneaky," and looked like "an attempt to undermine the union" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/23). Canadiens RW Erik Cole said, "I see this as the league trying to undermine our union and Don Fehr" (Montreal GAZETTE, 10/24). Univ. of Pennsylvania Wharton Sports Business Initiative Associate Dir Scott Rosner said, "They're essentially trying to make an end run around the union." He added that such a move "during negotiation would be considered unusual." Rosner: "Isn't that the job of the union, to answer the questions of its constituencies? The union's position is going to be, 'It's not management's place to educate our players -- we're perfectly capable of doing it ourselves'" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/24). The AP's Podell wrote the "secretive discussions didn't produce a breakthrough, but they have inflamed an already unsettled atmosphere" (AP, 10/23).

CAUSE & EFFECT: In Toronto, Kevin McGran writes the NHLPA and labor contract experts "were not impressed" with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's "highly unusual decision." Queen's Univ. Labor Law Lecturer George Smith said, "In a true labour-management relationship, this would be deemed as bargaining in bad faith by the employer." McGran writes it is "clear the fact the move leaked out was a public relations disaster for the league, their third public miscue by some counts." Fans were "angry that the league hired a public relations firm to help it deal with its lockout strategy, and labour leaders thought the league crossed a line when it published on its website its latest contract offer" (TORONTO STAR, 10/24). In Ottawa, Wayne Scanlan wrote the "risk is that the league has only further annoyed player and exhausted fan patience with a tactic many view as sneaky and typically Bettman-esque" (OTTAWACITIZEN.com, 10/23). The GLOBE & MAIL's James Mirtle writes what the NHL is "really doing here is fishing for weak points in the membership," but it "doesn't sound like they found all that many." The NHLPA membership is "just about as militant as Fehr right now" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/24). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts writes this is "not the first time either side has attempted an end-around on the labour negotiations." There was "contact by the owners with the players in the 1994-95 lockout and in 2004-05 it happened again." However, as the "union ranks started splintering in 2004-05, there was contact from the players' side as well" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/24).

LATEST PR MISCUE: In Tampa, Damian Cristodero wrote unless the NHLPA "makes a formal complaint, this probably becomes just another sideshow for what should be the main event" (TAMPABAY.com, 10/23). ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang wrote it "looks like Bettman made another serious miscalculation" (ESPNNY.com, 10/23). The GLOBE & MAIL's Shoalts & Mirtle write the move "was widely seen as one more public-relations gaffe for the NHL." Toronto-based Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP Partner Steven Barrett said, "If anything, these tactics actually end up building solidarity with unionized employees." The "controversy seems to have increased the players' resolve." Player agent Anton Thun said, "It's just another bush-league move that Gary (Bettman) has initiated. ... He doesn't want to negotiate a deal, he wants to bust the union." Shoalts & Mirtle note while an unfair labor practice claim could be filed, "the sense Tuesday was the union is more miffed at another distraction from negotiations than looking to further damage relations whit a retaliatory act" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/24).

SURVEY SAYS: A Sun Media poll as of yesterday showed that Bettman "has added almost four points to his overall approval rating compared with poll results at the start of the lockout." Bettman "now is considered a 'strong leader' by 16.9% of respondents, up from 13.3% in the previous poll." While 50% of respondents "blame 'both sides' for the lockout, 33% of hockey fans now blame 'greedy players' for the standoff, more than double the percentage who blamed the players a month ago." The "remaining 17% blame the NHL." In addition, 70% of respondents "now believe the NHL won't reconvene until next season" (QMI AGENCY, 10/23).

AROUND THE LEAGUE: The GLOBE & MAIL's Sean Gordon writes under the header, "Does Habs' Property Development Fall Under Hockey-Related Revenue?" The Canadiens' plan for new condos "highlights differences between NHL's haves and have-nots" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/23)....In L.A., Helene Elliott noted FS West and Prime Ticket "are still trying to fill" the time slots that would have been taken up by games. The nets started showing "classic playoff games involving the Ducks on Tuesdays and classic Kings games on Wednesday" (LATIMES.com, 10/23)....In Nashville, Jessica Jones notes for seven straight years, the Predators "have set aside time each October to give back to the community that supports them." Past years have "seen players volunteering their time in the community, but with the current NHL work stoppage, this year's annual week of giving had a slightly different look to it." Predators staff members "spent the week of Oct. 8-12 engaging in a variety of philanthropic tasks." Through the "contributions of more than 100 Predators staff members, the organization was able to put nearly 500 hours of service into the community during the week." Predators Community Relations Dir Rebecca King said, "We have all of our staff volunteering" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 10/24).
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