SBD/November 30, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 76: Mediation Fails; Bettman Suggests Meeting For Players, Owners Only

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league and NHLPA broke off the mediation process after only two days because “the presiding mediators concluded that the parties remained far apart, and that no progress toward a resolution could be made through further mediation at this point in time.” In N.Y., Pat Leonard writes, "To illustrate just how far apart the parties remain, the NHL and union couldn’t even agree on the mediation’s result" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/30). In L.A., Helene Elliott reports since federal mediators could not resolve the dispute, the league on Thursday "proposed putting the stalemate directly in the hands of players and owners." After Thursday's talks, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "proposed arranging a meeting that would exclude executives on both sides and allow owners and players to have an unfiltered exchange of ideas." The NHLPA did not immediately respond but "was expected to raise the idea during a conference call Friday with players." Many NHLers have "taken part in negotiating sessions, but only a few owners have participated" (L.A. TIMES, 11/30). Daly said of the idea, "We want to find a way to get to a deal. Nothing else has worked. The commissioner felt that we might as well propose something different. We will see how they respond." ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang wrote the bottom line is that "there is no end in sight" (ESPNNY.com, 11/29). In DC, Stephen Whyno wrote there is "no reason why mediators could not intervene in the process again, but for now the sides will go back to regular collective bargaining talks" (WASHINGTONTIMES.com, 11/29).

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? The CP's Chris Johnston noted with "no end to the standoff in sight and players set to miss their fourth paycheque on Friday, speculation is expected to grow about the possibility of the union decertifying or disclaiming interest" (CP, 11/29). However, in Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch notes reports indicate that NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "can no longer decertify because of the timing." It could mean the NHLPA "files a Disclaimer of Interest." Under that scenario, Fehr "would no longer lead the players and it is quicker than decertifying." The tactic was "used in the NBA dispute" (OTTAWA SUN, 11/30). CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty wrote, "Perhaps there will be a number of NHL owners who will decide to press for an end to the lockout, which has cost both the league and the players millions of dollars." But, "more likely, the next step will probably be a discussion of potential 'nuclear options' for each side." NHLPA decertification "chatter has been gaining in volume among the players over the last week." Similarly, there have been "rumblings the NHL owners are ready to pull the $211 million 'make whole' offer from the table" (CSNNE.com, 11/29). SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote the owners "keep playing a waiting game, with a growing sense that the lockout will end only when the owners are good and ready to end it." But it "feels like the NHL's readiness has little, if any, connection to what actually happens at the bargaining table short of total NHLPA capitulation" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 11/29).

FRESH APPROACH: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote Bettman "offering to bench himself is some kind of curveball." This one "caught everyone off guard." LeBrun: "If I'm in the NHLPA ... I'd agree on doing this only if all 30 owners are invited to join if they so choose. I'd go further. I'd request that Jeremy Jacobs also join Bettman on the bench." It is time to "get some fresh voices with a fresh approach." At this point, the process "requires it" (ESPN.com, 11/29). In New Jersey, Andrew Gross wrote, "To me, it seems the league’s attempt to get the owners and players together is an attempt to drive a wedge between Fehr and the union. My guess would be, if this proposed meeting does come off, the players would emerge more unified than ever" (NORTHJERSEY.com, 11/29). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo wrote it is "clear at this point that the league doesn't believe it'll ever get a deal done with the Fehrs standing in the way" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 11/29). YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote the new offer seems "like a PR move." It seems "like another negotiating tactic designed to go around" NHLPA leadership. But they have "got to try, at least under certain conditions" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/29).

FACE TO FACE: In Boston, Steve Conroy writes word of the proposed meeting, "which would essentially pit businessmen against players, reeked to some of a public relations maneuver by the owners." One player agent sarcastically said, "Yeah, why not? Let’s be honest. It’s clear that the owners don’t respect the players, so I’d have no problem putting any of my guys in a room with them.” Conroy notes many are "anxiously awaiting" the NHL BOG meeting on Wednesday in N.Y. If there is "a challenge to the leadership" of Bruins Owner and BOG Chair Jeremy Jacobs, and that of Bettman and NHL lawyer Bob Batterman, "it is believed it will show itself in that meeting" (BOSTON HERALD, 11/30). In Newark, Rich Chere writes it is "likely now that there will not be a breakthrough in negotiations until after" the BOG meeting (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 11/30).

KEEPING BUSY: In Buffalo, John Vogl noted despite the lockout, the Sabres "do not plan a reduction in staff or salaries at the present time." The organization has "not discussed trimming hours or employees." In place of their "normal hockey-related jobs, Sabres employees have spent time doing charity work or learning how the organization works" (BUFFALONEWS.com, 11/28).
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