SBD/December 10, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 86: Fehr Maintains Deal Is Close; Games Cancelled Through Dec. 30

NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "maintains a deal was close with the NHL to end the four-month lockout and kick-start the hockey season before talks broke off" last week, according to Chris Johnston of the CP. Fehr on Saturday said, “My comments from a couple of days ago stand on their own. I think we were very close." Fehr’s comments "run contrary to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who said angrily Thursday he didn’t think the owners and players were close to a deal." Fehr said that he has "not spoken directly with Bettman or deputy commissioner Bill Daly since talks crumbled, adding there have been some minor chatter between the two sides but that no future meetings have been scheduled." Fehr: “So far they have not indicated a willingness to continue discussions." But Fehr added that negotiations are "further ahead than they were a week ago, despite talks collapsing, and that a tentative agreement over a pension plan as well as discussions on money issues are largely done, with the exception of transition payments" (CP, 12/8). Fehr said that the players have "already agreed to 'massive' losses even if the league accepts what had been proposed by the union." He said, “The way this negotiation sits, the percentage that players get out of industry revenue, assuming that the current proposals on the table hold, would result in massive concessions to the owners. When they say they’re negotiating against themselves, what exactly is it? What has moved in the players’ direction? It’s not salaries. It’s not the length of contract” (TORONTO STAR, 12/8). In Toronto, Ian Shantz noted Fehr on Saturday "intimated the next move -- when and how talks might resume -- will be up to Gary Bettman and the league's owners." Fehr: "It's up to them. They're the ones that called a halt to the process" (TORONTO SUN, 12/9).

GAMES CANCELLED THROUGH DECEMBER 30: The NHL this afternoon will cancel regular season games through Dec. 30. The previous cancellation was through Dec. 15. As a result, the best-case scenario for this season is likely a 48-game schedule, which is what the NHL played from Jan. 20-May 3 after the lockout that cancelled the first three months of the '94-95 season. Execs with the NHL and NHLPA were in communication over the weekend, but as of this morning, no formal negotiations were scheduled. It is expected that the two sides will meet at some point this week (Christopher Botta, SportsBusiness Journal). The CP's Johnston noted there was "no contact between the sides on Friday as both took some time to cool off" (CP, 12/7). The AP's Ira Podell noted Daly on Friday said that he is "out of ideas how to get negotiations back on track to save the hockey season." Daly in an e-mail wrote, "I have no reason, nor any intention, of reaching out to the union right now. I have no new ideas. Maybe they do. We are happy to listen" (AP, 12/8). Meanwhile, in N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote this is "not a 'cooling off' period," but rather a "scripted gap meant to whip up dissent within the NHLPA rank-and-file and turn up the heat on Don Fehr." This is a "stretch in which ownership and management mean to scare the players into a stampede to either overthrow or sidestep their elected leader" (N.Y. POST, 12/9). The GLOBE & MAIL's Jeff Blair wrote, "Do not be misled by the two-month-old press releases run out by the so-called doves among the owners who met with that group of players; this is all playing out according to plan" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/9).

DEAL CLOSER THAN IT MAY APPEAR: In Philadelphia, Sam Carchidi wrote the NHL and the union "have never been closer to a labor agreement." There is "still work to be done, but if you cut through the rhetoric, the sides are not far away, money-wise, on the main issues." And it "wouldn't take much for a 48-game season to be saved, with teams starting play in early January" (PHILLY.com, 12/9). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun believes a deal "will be reached sooner rather than later, and there will be a season," as the NHL and NHLPA last week "got much closer on an agreement." Whether or not the "emotion gets in the way of a deal, well, that I can’t predict." But purely from a "framework basis, this deal is nearly there." The two sides have "essentially agreed on revenue sharing among teams, the players’ pension issues and the make-whole provision." That leaves "three key issues unresolved" -- the length of the CBA, contract term limits and no "compliance buyouts or caps on escrow in transition" (ESPN.com, 12/7). The N.Y. POST's Brooks wrote the sides are "thread-the-needle close to a deal." The league wants a "10-year CBA with an eight-year out clause." The union wants an "eight-year CBA with a six-year out clause." The league wants "five-year contract limits with seven-year limits for teams to sign their own players." The union wants "eight-year limits to apply across the board." Brooks: "That’s about it. A couple of split-the-difference items plus the issue of amnesty buyouts that arises because of what will be a steep drop in the cap for 2013-14" (N.Y. POST, 12/9). CBSSPORTS.com's Adam Gretz wrote of the owners' proposed term limits on player contracts, "Is this really so important to both sides that it would put the 2012-13 season in jeopardy? It doesn't seem like it should be, especially since both sides appear to be so close -- or were close -- when it comes to the financials" (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/8). In Vancouver, Bruce Arthur writes the sides are, "other than escrow and buyouts issues, zero dollars apart, based on the offers made this week." There "should be a deal this week." There "should have been a deal last week" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/10).

SIDES HAVE NO TRUST IN ONE ANOTHER: In Pittsburgh, Dave Molinari noted the "sting of Bettman's emphatic rejection" to the union's proposal last Thursday "still showed" in Penguins C Sidney Crosby's tone and words a day later. Crosby on Friday said, "To kind of go through all of that and get a response like that is pretty devastating, I think, for everyone." He believed that there had been "genuine progress made, particularly during the early rounds of talks between the players and owners, when Bettman and Donald Fehr were not involved." Enough that he "still thinks 'the foundation is there' for an agreement in the relatively near future." Crosby: "I think that if it's a case where, like Gary said in his (news) conference, they're going to draw a line in the sand, just say that. Don't waste guys' time, in there for three days discussing stuff for three days, trying to find a way to make something work, then come in and say that" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 12/8). In Newark, Rich Chere wrote under the header, "Owners Appear To Want Total Victory." The owners are "looking for a rout, holding firm to what deputy commissioner Bill Daly says are three key issues" (NJ.com, 12/7). In Toronto, Cathal Kelly wrote it is "clear the NHLPA’s approach to the lockout was doomed from the outset." The players "miscalculated on several crucial points." They have "approached this as a generic labour fight." Kelly: "It isn’t. It isn’t even a sports labour fight. It’s a hockey labour fight, a completely unique beast" (TORONTO STAR, 12/8). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote it has been "clear from the outset these two sides don’t trust each other." That lack of trust has "impaired any kind of meaningful ongoing dialogue, and it has led to misleading the public and, in some ways, their own constituents." For "smart, dynamic men" like Bettman, Fehr and "their lieutenants, this negotiation is a smear on their reputations" (ESPN.com, 12/7). In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa wrote under the header, "Trust Missing In NHL Labor Negotiations" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/9). In Detroit, Gregg Krupa wrote, "This absurdity, on both sides ... must cease." Stopping it is "ultimately more important than whether hockey is played this season" (DETROITNEWS.com, 12/7).

TIME TO ROCK THE VOTE? The BOSTON GLOBE's Shinzawa noted unless the NHLPA's leadership "can finalize an agreement, the rank-and-file will not vote on any proposal." However, it would be interesting "to see the results of an anonymous player vote taken right now on the NHL’s last offer." It is a rule that players "never criticize their own outside of the dressing room." But if given the "chance to vote individually and anonymously, without fear of disclosure or repercussions, the guess is that a healthy number of players would take a deal" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/9). In Toronto, Joe Warmington noted the CBC's Don Cherry believes that a vote is the only way to "find out for sure if the players want to continue to remain locked out or get it settled and get the games back on." Cherry: “Have a secret ballot and vote on the owners’ last proposal. It’s the most democratic way of deciding once and for all how the players really feel. If they vote 90% in favour of rejecting it, then you know. If most of them in secret actually want to come back, a vote will show that" (TORONTO SUN, 12/8).

PLAYERS TRY TO STAY UPBEAT: Oilers C Shawn Horcoff on Saturday said, "We're running out of time but it's a long ways away. I hope after a couple days, cooler heads prevail and we can get back at it. We're closer. We made progress. It's not like we're farther apart. We made progress on the key issues, we're just not there yet. The worst thing would be to take time off and not meet" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/9). Red Wings D Niklas Kronwall on Friday said, "If we’re this close, I don’t see the reason why we shouldn’t just keep at it until we have something. I don’t see the reason why we should all of a sudden step away and get all dramatic. Just stick with it and let’s get this done" (FREEP.com, 12/7). Predators C Colin Wilson: "Everybody is getting antsy, but I certainly wouldn’t mistake it for guys wanting to get a deal done and giving into the owners. Everybody is antsy, but I think everybody is being smart about it as well. I want to get out there and play … a lot" (TENNESSEAN.com, 12/7). Lightning RW B.J. Crombeen: "They're trying to squeeze 5 more cents out of a deal that can be done. It's very frustrating. They're just saying 'It's our way or the highway.' You look at the deal we had and the deal we're going to get, every single aspect (the players are) giving up a lot" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 12/8).
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