SBD/November 6, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 52: League, Union Return To Bargaining Table Today

The NHL and NHLPA will meet today in N.Y. "at what appears to be a critical juncture in the labor dispute that began when the league locked players out on Sept. 15," according to Helene Elliott of the L.A. TIMES. Sources said that players and "some influential owners are pressuring their respective negotiators to reach a deal." The league has canceled the schedule through Nov. 30 as well as the Jan. 1 Winter Classic," and losing more games "could damage its prospects for future revenue and alienate more fans." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr are "expected to attend" today's meeting, as are "about a dozen players and several owners." About 100 players "discussed strategy" yesterday during a conference call (L.A. TIMES, 11/6). The AP's Ira Podell noted the league and union "hadn't met since Oct. 18 when each side turned down offers," but NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr "got together by themselves Saturday in an undisclosed location and held productive talks." Both sides said that the "discussions over the weekend were good, creating some optimism that perhaps a deal could soon be reached to save the already truncated hockey season." No new formal proposals "were made Saturday, but it is believed the issue of payments of existing player contracts was a big part of the discussions" (AP, 11/5). CSNPHILLY.com's Tim Panaccio noted it is "expected both sides intend to meet through the week," and among the "new strategies toward paving a smoother road to collective bargaining talks in the NHL lockout may be ... silence." A league spokesperson yesterday said that after today's session "not to expect a formal news conference ... because there is a feeling among their negotiating team that the less said to the media the better, that silence may lead to better traction in the talks" (CSNPHILLY.com, 11/5).

CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote today's meeting "can still go all kinds of directions; it’s still in a very, very delicate state." It might produce "more progress and lead to consecutive days of bargaining and ultimately a new CBA, but the two sides could just as easily clash again on key issues and the whole thing goes sideways." The "key development over the past week was word that the NHL was willing to fund a portion of the 'make-whole' provision, language introduced in the league’s last official proposal that sees existing players’ contracts honored" (ESPN.com, 11/5). In Toronto, Kevin McGran notes there is "optimism rising that a deal ... could be within reach." However, one NHL player on the NHLPA bargaining committee said that the sides "were still quite far apart." The player said that the league "still hasn't put anything on paper regarding what appears to be the make-or-break issue: that owners pay players their salaries in full." McGran notes as talks to "save the NHL season reach a critical stage ... the cone of silence that has descended upon them had been seen as a sign of hope." Former NHLPA Ombudsman Buzz Hargrove said, "That's the first positive sign that there's some movement towards trying to find a solution, that maybe something could be done without costing the season" (TORONTO STAR, 11/6).

SETTING THE RIGHT TONE: In N.Y., Larry Brooks writes the "spirit in which the league's ambiguous plan regarding" the make-whole provision is presented "will be almost as important as the relevant arithmetic." There is "no time for bait and switch." There is "no more time for posturing." It is "difficult to envision a settlement if talks this week collapse, and it is impossible to envision a settlement if talks collapse because of an absence of trust between the parties." Brooks: "No one requires another couple of pages flipping off the 2012 calendar. Everyone understands what is at stake" (N.Y. POST, 11/6). Also in N.Y., Pat Leonard notes the two sides "would like to avoid a catastrophe like their last large-group negotiating session ... which lasted only an hour, featured the NHL declining three union proposals, prompted a 15-day standoff in talks, and resulted in the cancellation of all games through Nov. 30" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/6). The GLOBE & MAIL's Sean Gordon writes if the two sides "can reach a compromise on the main financial issues in the coming days, the rest of the negotiation should go relatively smoothly and could be sorted out sharpish, assuming no funny stuff from the lawyers in drafting the fine print." Just because a deal "is taking shape doesn't mean the two sides will grab it, but the sense, from the players' side at least, is that it could happen" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/6).

TIMETABLE FOR A DEAL: Red Wings RW Danny Cleary said that if there is "a way to salvage any of the NHL season ... it will happen between now and Thanksgiving." He "called the next three weeks 'huge,' as far as saving as much of a truncated season as possible." Cleary: "There's some light. There's a ton of time to get a deal done, and I think there's a deal to be done. We'll see" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 11/6). Oilers G Devan Dubnyk said, "I'm cautiously optimistic ... This isn't something that's going to come together in a day or two, but as long as they find things we can agree on ... the take-it or leave-it (proposal from the owners) certainly wasn't productive" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 11/6). In Buffalo, John Vogl writes there is "no way a deal will be consummated today ... but cordial, productive talks could bring hope that the NHL will return in December" (BUFFALO NEWS, 11/6). In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote there was "always going to be a NHL lockout and there was never going to be hockey in October and November." Both sides "said repeatedly they wanted the season to start on time, but neither the owners nor the players did anything much to make that happen." While the "nature of the labour negotiations probably mandates there will be at least one more occasion when one side or the other stalks away from the talks and panic of another cancelled season erupts, playing by early December looks about right now" (THESTAR.com, 11/5). However, SI.com's Stu Hackel wrote, "Until we get some sustained momentum from the CBA discussions, it's foolish to think that we have anything but a long road ahead of us." During the past two months, "we've periodically had our hopes raised that good faith and reason were about to prevail and that hasn't happened yet" (SI.com, 11/5).

NOT GETTING AHEAD OF THEMSELVES: Penguins C Sidney Crosby said, "It's definitely an important time, considering the timing of everything, knowing in the back of all of our minds that it's probably the last chance to get anything close to a full season. I'm thinking that's on everyone's mind. That should, hopefully, create a little more discussion" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 11/6). Senators D Chris Phillips said, "There's a lot of work to do. It's not just resolving the economic issues. There's still player-contracting stuff. There's still lots of stuff out there. Hypothetically, we could agree (Tuesday) on how we're going to figure out this 50-50 (revenue) split and not have a deal because there are a lot of issues that have to be worked out" (OTTAWA SUN, 11/6). Rangers C Brad Richards: "You're always happy when they're talking, but staying even keel is probably smarter. Last time, I thought the proposals we were working on, we would negotiate, and 10 minutes later it was over. I don't want to sound pessimistic but I'm not going to jump the ship here, either. We'll see how this week goes" (TAMPABAY.com, 11/5). Senators RW Daniel Alfredsson "doesn't believe there's any reason for anyone to get excited until both sides start dealing with the core issues." He said, "I don't think we're at that point right now. Until we are, I'm not reading too much into us meeting or having discussions" (CP, 11/5).

LIGHTING A FIRE: In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch cites sources as saying that Bettman and league officials "were taken aback by the public reaction to cancelling the NHL's annual outdoor game and felt they'd better move." A league source yesterday said, "I don't think the lockout hit home for a lot of people until that game was cancelled. ... It's almost like the lockout suddenly got more attention." Garrioch writes there is "no question that losing the whole season was not an option for the league going into the lockout." The source said, "Now, it looks like a real possibility. And, I don't think that sits well in a lot of circles" (OTTAWA SUN, 11/6). The GLOBE & MAIL's Ken Dryden writes, "If there is no season, no matter when a deal comes or what that deal is, make no mistake: Gary Bettman and the NHL owners will have lost; Don Fehr and the NHL players will have lost. Nor can any of them justify their loss by arguing that they lost less than they might have, and so they won. They, all of them, will have failed. No season, no victory" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/6).
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