SBD/November 5, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 51: League, Union Resume Negotiations Over Core Issues

The NHL and NHLPA are "tentatively scheduled to resume bargaining talks" tomorrow in N.Y., according to sources cited by Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com. The NHLPA also has scheduled "an internal conference call between the negotiation committee and the executive board" for today (ESPN.com, 11/4). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said of a Saturday meeting with NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr, "We met on and off for most of the day and covered a lot of ground." The CP's Chris Johnston noted it "represented a significant departure in protocol from the last few months, when the parties rarely sat down together for more than an hour or two at a time." The meeting was "unique because it included just the No. 2 men from the league and union, perhaps offering a harbinger of better times ahead" (CP, 11/4). In L.A., Helene Elliott noted after Saturday's meeting, instead of "engaging in finger-pointing and rhetoric afterward," Daly and Fehr "each issued a straightforward statement Sunday." That is "huge progress in itself." The big breakthrough "occurred last week, when the league agreed to adjust its stance on the 'make whole' clause in its last proposal." The league "apparently is willing to rework that to ensure the players get the full value of their contracts, though it's not clear how exactly that will happen" (LATIMES.com, 11/4). In New Jersey, Tom Gulitti notes Daly and Fehr yesterday put out statements that were "reserved but generally positive" (Bergen RECORD, 11/5).

A CHANGE IN TONE: In Toronto, Kevin McGran noted one thing about Saturday's meeting "was clear: this round of talks is different." For one, it "involved the deputies, not the main characters." Secondly, they "are talking." Thirdly, the talks are "being held in secret, effectively keeping rhetoric to a minimum" (TORONTO STAR, 11/4). In N.Y., Pat Leonard noted the two sides are "doing their best to avoid any of the counterproductive, public relations spin that has marked much of this NHL lockout" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/4). On Long Island, Steve Zipay wrote the tone after Saturday's meeting was "far more cordial than after previous sessions." Union leaders also "conducted a conference call Sunday to brief players on the developments" (NEWSDAY, 11/4). In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch writes the "icy relationship between the NHL and NHLPA may finally be showing signs of a thaw." There are "indications progress was actually made" (OTTAWA SUN, 11/5). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts writes the "ugly public-relations fallout after the NHL cancelled the Winter Classic on Friday appears to have spurred the latest talks" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/5).

PERHAPS A COMPROMISE: TSN.com's Darren Dreger noted the league "amended a proposal made last month to shift the cost of the NHL -- designed 'make whole' provision from the players share over to the owners side." The concept of "make whole" is a "protection plan to cover player salary reduction in dropping the players revenue share from 57 per cent to 50 per cent in Year 1 of a new CBA" (TSN.ca, 11/3). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo wrote this is a "huge concession because players have made very clear in the last little bit that they are willing to go to a 50-50 split as long as all their contracts mutually negotiated in good faith under the previous collective bargaining agreement are honored in full." If that is true, and "there's indeed no strings attached to this owner proposition, this would be a huge step toward a new CBA and then moving on" (STARTRIBUNE.com 11/4). Meanwhile, in Chicago, Chris Kuc cited a source as saying that the league's latest offer of a 50-50 split is "not only off the table, but the NHL has shifted its focus on getting more than half" of hockey-related revenue under the new agreement. One owner has even "urged his peers on the Board of Governors to stick with the league's initial offer of 43 percent for the players, though is believed unrealistic" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/4).

PUT A CAP ON IT: The GLOBE & MAIL's Shoalts writes, "Trouble looms from a couple of surprising groups on each side of the labour divide." At issue are "two changes from the former collective agreement in what goes into the salary cap, in particular the payroll floor." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, in his last offer, before the previous round of talks broke off on Oct. 18, said that teams would "no longer be allowed to count player bonus money on their payroll in order to get to the floor." He also proposed "all player salaries above $105,000 (all currency U.S.), even those on a team’s minor-league roster, would now be included under the salary cap." This "alarmed two groups." One is a "lot of NHL owners, many of whom were considered moderates, who are not happy that under this proposal they could no longer include on their payroll bonus money that would likely never be paid in order to get to the salary floor," which was $48.3M in '11-12. The other "unhappy group is all of the players in the AHL, who would effectively see their salaries capped at $105,000 under Bettman’s offer" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/5). In N.Y., Larry Brooks writes, "Cap the players at 51 percent of hockey-related revenue but guarantee the players 49 percent." Combined with a "lower floor, this diminishes the chance the league would ever have to issue make-whole checks to the union following any season" (NYPOST.com, 11/4).

ASSESSING THE MESS: In Illinois, Barry Rozner wrote under the header, "Does Bettman Really Care About NHL?" Bettman works for the "benefit of few owners who are either bad at running a business or are in a market where they can't make hockey work." Rozner: "I asked an NHL executive last week how many owners we're talking about here, and he said he thought the number was between six and eight." It seems that "proving a point and getting the players to pay for the owners' mistakes is all that matters to Bettman" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 11/4). In Vancouver, Tony Gallagher wrote under the header, "NHL Wants The Players To Pay For Its Mistakes. Over-Expansion, Poor Locations Prime Reasons Some Teams Lose Cash" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 11/4).

DEEP LOYALTY? In St. Louis, Mike Reilly writes Bettman is the "worst commissioner in modern sports history for this reason: He's never been humbled." Reilly: "How much abuse will hockey fans accept before they find other uses for their money?" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 11/5). But in Chicago, Rick Telander wrote, "The owners -- and, to a much lesser extent, the players -- have no fear. They know fans are suckers. They know fans' desire to be entertained is boundless." When the dispute is settled the fans "will be back, bigger than ever" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 11/4).
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