SBD/December 3, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 79: Players Accept Meeting With Owners, Want Say In Who Attends

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The NHLPA yesterday "accepted the league’s invitation to hold a meeting between players and owners," but the session "won’t be strictly limited to players and owners: it will also include staff members and counsel for both sides," according to Helene Elliott of the L.A. TIMES. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly will "lead the league's delegation," while the union's delegation will be led by NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr. Neither NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman nor NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr is "expected to attend, a good omen for those who think each leader’s ego has gotten in the way of reaching a new collective bargaining agreement and saving a semblance of the NHL season." Whether the owners and players will "make any headway is unclear because the NHL’s roster includes Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, who is considered the most hawkish of the league’s owners when it comes to extracting economic concessions from players." The other "participating owners" are Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle, Jets Chair Mark Chipman, Flames Owner Murray Edwards, Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Chair Larry Tanenbaum and Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik (LATIMES.com, 12/2). ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang noted Jacobs and Edwards are the "only members of the group of six to have taken part in previous negotiations." Despite recent reports that Rangers Owner James Dolan "expressed interest in becoming involved, as he did during the NBA labor dispute last year, he was not extended an invitation." The meeting will take place tomorrow afternoon in N.Y., "in advance of Wednesday's board of governors meeting" (ESPNNY.com, 12/2). The CP's Chris Johnston noted the NHLPA indicated that it was "still finalizing the list of six players who it would send to the session." The idea for the meeting was "suggested last week by Bettman after the sides spent two days with U.S. federal mediators and failed to make any progress in talks" (CP, 12/2).

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT: In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch noted the two sides on Saturday "were exchanging ideas on what the ground rules would be." Sources said that the players "want input on who is going to be in the room and they aren’t going to allow the league to make any requests of which union members are involved." A league source said, “The owners don’t get to choose which players are in the room. If the owners want to talk, the players will listen, but I’m not sure the NHL is going to like what they hear back." Garrioch noted it is believed the union "will request the meeting not be a bargaining session" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/2). In Toronto, Kevin McGran wrote the meetings are seen to be "a last-ditch effort to get a deal done before Bettman faces the league’s board of governors on Wednesday and before the players consider going the potentially dangerous route of decertifying their union" (TORONTO STAR, 12/2).

NEED FOR NEW VOICES: In Pittsburgh, Josh Yohe noted a group of Penguins players "unanimously agreed that new blood at negotiations -- namely moderate owners -- is needed." Penguins LW Pascal Dupuis said, "People want to get Bettman out of there, and that's fine. But let's get some new blood in [there] on their side, and some new players in there. Maybe then something would happen." Penguins LW Matt Cooke said, "Put 30 guys in a room, and see how they act." Penguins D Matt Niskanen: "It would be interesting to get more owners involved. If they can speak their actual opinions, that could sway things." Yohe noted players "still have trust issues pertaining to the league and owners." Niskanen said of Bettman's plan, "He thinks it will benefit him. I'm not sure what angle he's trying to work. Personally, I don't think it will go very far. The owners have him in their back pocket anyhow. They're controlling this thing." Yohe: "And no one knows which direction this thing will go next" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 12/1). Penguins RW and NHLPA rep Craig Adams said, "It might be helpful if we can get some other owners in the room. If we're not going to hear new opinions and things like that, I'm not sure what the point would be." Penguins D Ben Lovejoy: "I'll try anything. I don't see the message changing all that much just because the top two guys from each side won't be there. I know if that meeting were to take place, the Fehr brothers wouldn't be there, but we would have lawyers in the room on both sides because that's how things are done. The owners are incredibly smart businessmen who have made decisions like this and have been in meetings like this before. We are hockey players. Some of us are reasonably bright. But I can't see it being a smart move for a bunch of NHL players to go head-to-head without our legal representation" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 12/1).

INVITATION LOST? In N.Y., Larry Brooks noted Dolan is "willing to join talks with NHL players" and "signaled his desire to become involved in the NHL stalemate." The league thus far has "limited owner participation in meeting with the NHLPA" to the four reps on the negotiating committee -- Jacobs, Edwards, Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis and Wild Owner Craig Leipold. Bettman and Dolan have had "essentially no personal relationship dating back to at least 2007." But Dolan's "distant relationship with Bettman has not isolated him within the NHL, and he indeed commands widespread respect within the Board." If the '12-13 season in cancelled, it is believed the Rangers "would lose upward of" $60M (NYPOST.com, 12/2). Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist on Friday tweeted, “If the plan is to have meetings between players and owners to solve this mess, maybe it’s time to allow teams that actually are carrying the league fina(n)cially to get involved.” He added, “So far I have not seen any invitations to the meeting room.. Without the big market teams (the) NHL is in BIG trouble so explain to me why they are not invited? in these meetings?” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/1). In Tampa, Damian Cristodero wrote, "How do Lightning players feel about Vinik? ... They have Vinik's back." Lightning C Vincent Lecavalier said, "Mr. Vinik has done so much for this community, it's two different things. I know for a fact not all the owners are involved in the process, so it never came to my mind to associate him with what's going on." Lightning RW Martin St. Louis: "Because of everything he's done in the past few years, I have a hard time believing Mr. Vinik doesn't want to play" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 12/2).

NO LOVE LOST: The N.Y. POST's Brooks noted the NHL "continues to attempt to discredit" Donald Fehr. There is a "rumor circulating through the Board that Fehr has a clause in his contract under which he would receive an $8 million payment should the PA vote to accept a CBA against his recommendation." When asked about it on Saturday, Fehr said, "Nonsense ... comical. ... I'd say that I only wish I were that good a negotiator for myself, except that I don't even want to joke about it." Brooks noted it all "appears to be part of a strategy to paint Fehr as unethical in order to undermine his influence with the players" (NYPOST.com, 12/2). In Toronto, Damien Cox writes the presence of Fehr has "both galvanized the players while at the same time league-union relations have been set back at least 20 years." But if the NHLPA is "united, it is united not by a common goal or an objective, but by a total and complete distrust of ownership and league executives bordering on hatred." Bettman is "almost universally hated by the players." There was a "little of this" back in '04-05. But the "proliferation of social media since then has given us access to the inner workings of the minds of more players, and unless they are being untruthful, to a man they appear to distrust and despise the NHL commissioner as a 'cancer' and an 'idiot' and generally in a way that is reminiscent of the way in which the Eagleson-Ziegler tandem was despised when it became clear what they'd been up to" (THESTAR.com, 12/3). ESPN CHICAGO's Jesse Rogers wrote whenever the sides "come to terms it needs to be the end for Bettman." He has "been a terrible negotiator." Bettman has "no nuance, he has no tact." He should "never hand the Stanley Cup over to another captain again" (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 11/30).

CHECK TO CHECK: In Pittsburgh, Rob Rossi noted the locked-out NHLers "will receive a payment of $10,000 this month." The NHLPA Exec Committee on Saturday "voted in favor of the stipend payment." Players, who are "paid twice monthly, missed a fourth paycheck Friday." Players received an escrow check in late October that "covered most of their first two missed payments" (TRIBLIVE.com, 12/1).
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