SBD/December 5, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 81: Penguins' Burkle Seen As Driving Force In "Productive" Meeting

Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle was one of six owners who met with 18 NHL players yesterday in N.Y., and he "seems to have been the driving force in what was widely viewed as a productive, encouraging session," according to Dave Molinari of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr "echoed that upbeat assessment." He said it was "maybe the best day we've had so far." Molinari notes Fehr and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly "stood side-by-side while addressing the media, something that has not happened in the past." The sides were scheduled to meet again early today prior to a long-planned meeting of the league's BOG. The Penguins' ownership is "a moderate in the league's labor dispute, and there were numerous reports of players who were in the meeting praising the perspective Burkle, a multi-billionaire reputed to be an outstanding negotiator, brought to it." Most early, not-for-attribution, reports "from inside the talks suggested that the sides managed to find some common ground, which hadn't happened very often in previous get-togethers." Initial indications were that there would be "six owners and six players involved in Tuesday's session, but the league ultimately decided not to limit the number of NHLPA members participating" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 12/5). In N.Y., Jeff Klein notes players in attendance included Penguins C Sidney Crosby and RW Craig Adams, Blackhawks C Jonathan Toews, Lightning RW Martin St. Louis and Sabres G Ryan Miller, "one of the most outspoken pro-union voices of the lockout." The selection of Burkle and Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Chair Larry Tanenbaum to the six-owner negotiating team "was seen as a nod to the owners' moderate wing." Burkle has a "union-friendly background" (NYTIMES.com, 12/5). NBC's Jeremy Roenick said the fact that Crosby and Toews were “in there is immense, it's huge." Roenick: "Two of the best leaders in the whole National Hockey League are leading the players” ("NESN Daily," NESN, 12/4).

NHL CBA MEETING PARTICIPANTS
NHL
Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs
Jets Chair Mark Chipman MLSE Chair Larry Tanenbaum
Flames Owner Murray Edwards Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik
NHLPA
Penguins RW Craig Adams Blackhawks RW Jamal Mayers
Blues C David Backes Canucks C Manny Malhotra
Flames C Mike Cammalleri Blues C Andy McDonald
Penguins C Sidney Crosby Sabres G Ryan Miller
Lightning RW B.J. Crombeen Panthers RW George Parros
Free agent LW Mathieu Darche Rangers C Brad Richards
Coyotes RW Shane Doan Lightning RW Martin St. Louis
Jets D Ron Hainsey Blackhawks C Jonathan Toews
Oilers C Shawn Horcoff Kings RW Kevin Westgarth

BURKLE HELPS CHANGE TONE: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun writes, "I’m willing to bet there’s a far greater chance of hockey this season than not after Tuesday’s developments." Sources said that Burkle yesterday "shined brightly in talks" and that the players were "receptive to his tone." Burkle over the past couple of weeks had "conversed with Sidney Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, and fellow Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and to some degree Crosby, as well, as the group tried to find common ground among the obvious, divisive issues between both sides of the labor impasse." Burkle’s track record in his "private business life suggests that he was just the man to try to find middle ground." When the Penguins' arena deal "nearly fell through, Burkle’s involvement helped save the project." Combined with a "similar desire shared by Crosby to do everything possible to save a season, the Penguins owner and his superstar captain put their best feet forward Tuesday in an attempt to push things back in the right direction." Sources on both sides last night "described for the very first time seeing a real desire to try to get a deal done." But the sources also were "cautious in saying the early traction in talks could easily combust once again" (ESPN.com, 12/5).

WERE THE RIGHT PEOPLE AT THE TABLE? ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote Crosby's "place at the table cannot be understated." He was "the face" of the new NHL following the '04-05 lockout, and he now represents a "strong and unifying presence among a player group that appears to be as unified as the day the lockout began in mid-September." St. Louis has "a ton of credibility, and the fact that Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has been added to the ownership mix should also provide for some healthy give and take" (ESPN.com, 12/4). In Tampa, Damian Cristodero notes it is "believed Vinik, while wanting the best financial deal possible for owners, wants a season to be played" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 12/5). In Pittsburgh, Rob Rossi notes Vinik has "become a favorite of Burkle and Lemieux" since he purchased the Lightning in February '10. Sources said that Burkle and Crosby "shared the belief that players need to hear from new owners because of the narrative that a handful of hard-line owners -- the Boston Bruins' Jeremy Jacobs has gained the most publicity in this category -- were hijacking the process" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 12/5). Meanwhile, the NATIONAL POST's Michael Traikos wondered about the "noticeably absent" Bruins and Maple Leafs players "who should be speaking up against" Jacobs and Tanenbaum. Maybe the teams "did not have any players who had been actively involved in the negotiating sessions," but it still would have been "beneficial for all six owners to sit across from players that are on the payroll" (NATIONALPOST.com, 12/4).

SIGNS OF POSITIVITY: USA TODAY's Kevin Allen writes adding new voices to the negotiations proved to be "a beneficial plan for jump-starting stalled talks." It is "too soon to know whether the talks will lead to a deal to save the season, but it seems as if both sides at least believe, maybe for the first time, that the other side is trying to reach an agreement." With the "clock ticking toward a possible cancellation of the season, the timing was right for both sides to have a greater sense of urgency" (USATODAY.com, 12/5). Sportsnet's John Shannon said, "There's a lot of people not getting the cart ahead of the horse, but ... yes, there was some progress made, and yes, things are looking better" ("NESN Daily," NESN, 12/4). In Toronto, Kevin McGran writes optimism that the "NHL season could be saved was rising" yesterday (TORONTO STAR, 12/5). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo writes this is "still a delicate process, but it's very clear there was traction, progress." There is "positivity for the first time in a long time" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 12/5). In Toronto, Rob Longley writes, "What remains to be seen, of course, is how whatever optimism generated from these sessions is translated" once NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr rejoin the formal negotiating process. There are "plenty of reasons for urgency, obviously, with threats of the season slipping away, but it’s believed that both sides are desperate to get something done before another block of games hits the chopping block" (TORONTO SUN, 12/5).

STILL A WAYS TO GO BEFORE DEAL: CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty writes there "appears to be some effort being made by both the players and the owners to get a CBA completed prior to Wednesday’s Board of Governors meeting, so that the full group of NHL owners can potentially ratify something this week." More likely the two sides "will continue to bridge the gap, and move toward an agreement over the next few weeks with a possible start at the beginning of January" (CSNNE.com, 12/5). In Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli writes this is "undoubtedly the most positive feeling -- in terms of hope and optimism -- that I’ve gotten during this process." Nonetheless, it is "still a tenuous situation." Walking out of the meeting early this morning, there were "whispers that a tentative deal could be brokered as soon as this afternoon." No off-the-record sources were "willing to confirm, but none also denied the possibility" (PHILLY.com, 12/5). In N.Y., Pat Leonard writes yesterday's meeting "may not turn out to resolve the lockout, but it at least demonstrated the players’ and owners’ sense of urgency about saving the season, and their realization that they are running out of time" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/5). The GLOBE & MAIL's Slater & Ebner write if the "seeming positive tone on Tuesday does not hold, and acrimony returns, the next major strategic play will probably be the players moving to decertify their union." Univ. of Georgia Sports Law Professor Nathaniel Grow said that decertification "allows players to sue owners under antitrust law and the tactic is likely to become a standard weapon in battles such as the NHL against its workers" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/5).

GET A GRIP: THE HOCKEY NEWS' Rory Boylen wrote at some point, the big-market owners "need to take back control of their league." Rangers Owner James Dolan is in charge of a "powerful, money-making franchise," but he "can’t even get into the negotiating room with the players." Boylen: "How inefficient and undemocratic of a system is it where the approval of only eight owners is needed to continue the shutdown of the entire business?" It is time for "the Torontos, Montreals and New Yorks of the league to stand up and toss the weight of their word around." It is "embarrassing enough the NHL is going through another work stoppage, but the fact the behemoths can be shut out like this takes the small-time, hokey-ness of this league to a whole new level" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 12/4). In Vancouver, Tony Gallagher writes whether anything "immediately identifiable comes out of Wednesday's board of governors meeting or not, you know there is a significant portion of the owners who want to play and Bettman is more than getting that feeling." Gallagher: "How could he not? Everyone is sensing that their momentum is growing the longer this self-inflicted wound continues to ooze." Bettman already has "won by wringing considerable wealth from the players and it's becoming increasingly clear to virtually everyone but the few people around him that carrying it on from here really doesn't make a whole lot of long-term business sense." The threat of losing the whole season is "quite hollow because it's an absurd concept, so suicidal in nature as to fool nobody" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/5).

CALLING FOR A DO-OVER: In a special to USA TODAY, Michael Taube, who served as a speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, writes there is “but one way to save this sport,” and that is to “blow up the NHL, and start again.” Hockey is “stuck in the past and refuses to face economic reality.” The road is “uncertain, but the steps toward recovery are obvious: Team owners should withdraw their clubs from the NHL.” Taube: “No teams, no league. Owners could then start up a new league with a blank slate.” Saving hockey for the future is “more important than saving the NHL.” While players and owners are “losing truckloads of money, fans have had enough.” Taube: “It's time to blow it to bits and rebuild” (USA TODAY, 12/5).
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