SBD/January 4, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 111: CBA Talks Turn South As Threat Of Cancelled Season Looms

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is "prepared to cancel the season on Thursday if a deal has not been reached or appears to be imminent," according to an NHL BOG source cited by Gary Lawless of the WINNIPEG FREE PRESS. The source said that the "chill that has settled on NHL labour negotiations is all part of a [NHLPA Exec Dir] Don Fehr plan to push commissioner Bettman into a corner for one last squeeze and there could be unfortunate circumstances for hockey fans." The source said that Fehr will "then let things sit for a day or two before trying to leverage Bettman one more time into signing a deal viewed as better for the players." The source added that owners and league personnel "believe Fehr is trying to blow up the process and is no longer interested in making a deal." They said that Bettman is "prepared for such an eventuality and will be supported should he elect to cancel the season." Bettman will then "take off what is currently on the table" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 1/4). CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty notes the NHLPA believes that Bettman will "flinch when it comes to whacking the entire 2013 NHL season given the pressure from media, fans, sponsors, advertisers and some very unhappy owners that have watched a three-ring negotiating circus sully the league's reputation" (CSNNE.com, 1/4).

PLAYERS BEGIN ANOTHER VOTE: ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang cited a source as saying that the NHLPA "began another vote to reauthorize the executive board the right to disclaim interest ... as the union and league spent Thursday without any formal labor negotiations." Although the two sides are "expected to continue the mediation process Friday morning, it appears the mounting optimism from earlier this week has dulled." As "conflicts between the NHL and union resurfaced, so has the possibility of the union disbanding." The voting process "began at 6 p.m. ET Thursday and will continue until the 48-hour window expires at 6 p.m. ET Saturday." The second vote came "less than a day after the union elected not to exercise the option by its self-imposed deadline of midnight Wednesday" (ESPNNY.com, 1/3). TSN's Darren Dreger reported the players on Wednesday voted to give Fehr "full authority to decide on the Disclaimer option before Wednesday's original midnight deadline." Fehr "evidently decided against using it" (TSN.ca, 1/3). Fehr was "perhaps concerned that it might disrupt the talks" (SI.com, 1/3). CSNPHILLY.com's Tim Panaccio wrote, "Strategically, Fehr may have thought he made a mistake" (CSNPHILLY.com, 1/3). In Newark, Rich Chere wrote Fehr "may have had regrets." The union asked the U.S. District Court in N.Y. to "dismiss the league's lawsuit trying to block a possible disclaimer of interest." The union claims that the league's lawsuit "should not be valid in blocking a disclaimer of interest and was filed to sway the court" (NJ.com, 1/3).

TONE OF TALKS TAKES BAD TURN: The CP's Chris Johnston noted the sides "only met in small groups on Thursday -- a departure from the frequent large group sessions they held in recent days" (CP, 1/3). In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch notes the players "felt the NHL's tone changed in the first of those small group sessions with the disclaimer of interest deadline that passed Wednesday off the table." The players were "upset the NHL tried to change the definition of hockey-related revenues and then backed off." A union source said, "With the threat of disclaimer gone, the NHL is digging in on key issues" (OTTAWA SUN, 1/4). Capitals LW Jason Chimera said the league "knew that deadline (to disclaim interest) was coming, so maybe they were bargaining in good faith up until that moment and maybe they’re going to shut it down" on Thursday. Chimera: "I don’t dislike anybody, but I don’t trust Gary Bettman right now and what his motive is. He’s a nice man, I’ve met him numerous times, but I don’t trust what’s happened so far" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/3). ESPN N.Y.'s Strang noted word of "discontent among the players filtered out Thursday after a small-group session between the two sides to clear up a matter on hockey-related revenue." A source said that although the NHL initially attempted to "modify the penalties for cap circumvention -- a move that did not go over well with the NHLPA -- it is believed the league ultimately reverted back to the understanding after Thursday's meeting" (ESPNNY.com, 1/3). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts notes the players engaging in a second vote on Thursday "wiped out the growing signs of optimism around the labour talks" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/4).

WE'VE COME TOO FAR: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun noted the players and Fehr were in a "foul mood after they discovered the league might have tried to pull a fast one on HRR language in last week's offer." LeBrun: "Did I say last week’s offer? Yes, I did. Did it really take a week for the union’s lawyers to find the HRR treachery?" An NHL source on Thursday night said that perhaps Fehr "knew all along but was waiting until the right time to pull that one out of the hat to get his players all riled up and galvanized? That perhaps, after having some players second-guess him Wednesday night for not filing the disclaimer of interest, that perhaps Fehr needed to change the focus?" (ESPN.com, 1/3). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside cited players as saying that they were "unhappy with the league on a number of issues, including trying to alter penalties to teams that are caught trying to circumvent reporting revenues for the purposes of defining hockey-related revenues." Burnside wrote as "angry as the players were on Thursday, it would be a monumental failure" for Fehr and his constituents to "lose this season." The league has "moved on a number of issues it said it would never move off" (ESPN.com, 1/3). YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote there is "too little left to gain for anyone and too much to lose for everyone to cancel the entire season." The "biggest issues remaining" are pensions, contract limits and the '13-14 salary cap (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/3).

PUT A CAP ON IT? The CP's Johnston cited sources as saying that the salary cap range for the '13-14 season -- the "first full one under the new CBA -- remained a significant hurdle." The "union is seeking" a $65M cap and a $44M floor while the "league has proposed" an upper limit of $60M and a lower limit of $44M. The biggest concern for the NHLPA is that lowering the cap from its current position of $70.2M while "transitioning to a 50-50 split of revenue will force a huge dispersal of players throughout the league." Canucks C Manny Malhotra said, "It’s an arbitrary number that they’ve come up with." He added, "Logistically, there’s no sense to lowering it that much. We’ve come off our stance (of $67.5 million) and offered a $65-million cap to bring that number down. But a $60-million cap would just mean guys who ordinarily wouldn’t be bought out or traded would be bought out or traded. So you’re messing not just with the system, but you’re messing with guys’ lives. Guys have to move around, move families around, that normally wouldn’t have to. It’s really a non-starter for us. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever" (CP, 1/3).
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