NHL Lockout, Day 33: Focus Shifts To Fehr, NHLPA After League's Latest Proposal
The NHL and NHLPA resume negotiations today in Toronto "with players expected to make a formal response to the owners' Tuesday offer" on a new CBA, according to Kevin Allen of USA TODAY (10/18). The league's chances of playing a full regular season "might hang in the balance" when today's session begins at 1:00pm ET. Rangers C Derek Stepan said of the league's latest offer, "I think it's a great start" (Bergen RECORD, 10/18). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun writes how the NHLPA responds to the offer "will have a critical impact on where this process goes." If the union "is willing to counter while working off the framework" the NHL provided, there is "a reasonable expectation the real negotiations have begun" and there could be a hockey season. If the NHLPA "responds by completely rejecting the offer, we're in for a deep freeze" (ESPN.com, 10/17). In Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli writes under the header, "Talks Thursday Could Make Or Break NHL Season" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 10/18). In DC, Katie Carrera noted the union's "initial reaction doesn't exactly appear to be a glowing review." Over the next week, "we'll find out if the two sides are truly willing to negotiate" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 10/17).
FEAR OF FEHR? In Toronto, Kevin McGran notes NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr wrote a letter to the players explaining "some of his concerns" about the owners' offer, which would see the players’ share "slashed by about $231 million in the first year." In particular, he "doubts the value of the NHL's 'make whole' proposal that would see money lost this year paid a few years later, largely by reducing the players’ share of revenue in future years" (TORONTO STAR, 10/18). In N.Y., Mark Everson writes the "puck is in Donald Fehr's end, and the union head will have to perform the stuff for which he was hired." Fehr's reputation as "a union whiz with ballplayers will now be tested" (N.Y. POST, 10/18). In Toronto, Damien Cox writes Fehr is "still a mystery" to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and his staff, and "nobody knows" which way Fehr will go. Cox: "We're about to find out" (TORONTO STAR, 10/18). A source said, "We're going to see what kind of negotiator Donald Fehr is now. If this meeting lasts an hour and the league walks out, then that's not going to be a good sign. Then, it could be a while before talks happen again" (OTTAWA SUN, 10/18). The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek writes the NHL has a "continuing suspicion of Fehr, who frankly has them both irritated and flummoxed." Internally, they "aren't sure if he's trying to facilitate a new agreement or win a negotiating war." The league is "still trying to figure him out -- thus far, without much success" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/18).
TAKE A GOOD, HARD LOOK AROUND: The GLOBE & MAIL's James Mirtle writes the players "will not be accepting the league's 50-50 proposal that was released in full" yesterday morning. It is "not so much the final number they're opposed to," but the talks "come back to a familiar topic: escrow" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/18). In L.A., Helene Elliott writes the terms "won little favor among locked-out players." An "especially contentious provision is a 'make whole' clause in which the NHL proposes to eventually pay players the full value of signed contracts even though they must take a big initial escrow bite." The repayments would come out of players' share in future years." The NHL "pinpointed a deadline of Oct. 25 for a new agreement and said a delay 'would necessarily leave us with an abbreviated season and will require the cancellation of signature NHL events'" (L.A. TIMES, 10/18). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell wrote, "I don't think there's any way the players accept this proposal as it's currently constituted. ... I keep hearing about how the league has made all kinds of concessions. Nothing could be further from the truth" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 10/17). TSN's Bob McKenzie "anticipated the NHLPA's hesitant response to Tuesday's offer." McKenzie said, "The PA is going to grind the NHL as hard as they can in order to improve this deal. ... I would predict over the next seven to 10 days -- there will be at least one or two or three breakdowns in negotiations where it's going off the rails." He added, "Most of the players would look at it [and] say, 'I don't like a lot about this, but I don't like Plan B even more'" (SI.com, 10/17).
IS A DEAL THERE FOR THE TAKING? USA TODAY's Allen notes the 50-50 split is "still a whopping loss to players." In "real dollar terms, the dip from their previous 57% to 50% represents a loss to players of $231 million a season." If "you factor the league is growing 5% a year, the loss is $1.6 billion over the course of the deal." What happens over the next week "comes down to the players' decision about how much they are willing to risk in the fight to express their anger over the owners wanting to take more from them" (USA TODAY, 10/18). NBC's Pierre McGuire said, "Talking to players last night, talking to management people this morning, I truly believe they can get something done off this document." He added, "The heat is now on the players to do something. ... They can't just be the party of no anymore. They're at 50/50 now, and everybody knows they're not going to get much more than that" (DENVERPOST.com, 10/17). In Philadelphia, Sam Carchidi writes, "Privately, many NHL players think the league took a step toward ending the labor dispute when it made a new proposal for a six-year collective-bargaining agreement Tuesday" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 10/18). But the AP's Ronald Blum noted the union saw the NHL's proposal "as only a small step forward to ending the monthlong lockout" (AP, 10/17). Jets LW Andrew Ladd said, "I'd talked about it with other guys that this was probably going to be their play. That at the last minute they're going to throw the 50-50 at us and try to pressure us into taking a deal. But it's not going to change the way we're negotiating." Jets C Olli Jokinen: "Is Nov. 2 a deadline for us? No. There's no such thing for us as deadlines." Ladd said, "We're not going to be bullied into a deal, or peer-pressured into it. There's a lot of parts of the proposal we don't feel are very good. And we're still giving up huge concessions in a lot of areas" (WINNIPEG SUN, 10/18).
MORE DETAILS: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts notes by raising the revenue-sharing pot to about $200M from $140M, the league "is taking out a couple of restrictions from the previous labour agreement to allow some clubs to collect for the first time." The "key move is dropping the rule that did not allow teams playing in markets with 2.5 million or more television households, which in the United States represents the top six markets, to participate in revenue-sharing." Also dropped is "the ban on clubs in the top half of league revenue." There is a "reward for the bottom-feeders as well." Bettman will "no longer require clubs to meet targets for ticket sales and revenue growth to see a full share from the revenue pool" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/18). The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin writes the "best outcome of this lockout will not be 50/50 revenue splits or term limits on contracts." It will be "a growing realization among the NHL owners that their leadership group keeps leading them into a blind alley" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/18).
FULL DISCLOSURE: ESPN.com's LeBrun wrote, "My sense is that the league's top dogs were anxious about how Fehr would spin the offer to his membership, which is why, in my opinion, the league took the unprecedented step Wednesday morning of publishing the entire proposal." It "wasn't so much about fans being able to read it -- although that doesn't hurt in the PR war -- but really so that the 700-odd NHL players could view the league's original version and not just what they're being told by Fehr." LeBrun: "The league desperately wants to make the players understand what's on the table. ... If I were Fehr and the players, I would find a way to work off the framework of this offer" (ESPN.com, 10/17). In Toronto, Lance Hornby writes Bettman's "sudden taste for transparency ... was a bold one-off, designed to put pressure on the players and win some badly needed support from the public." In the process, he "likely made some union execs go ballistic" (TORONTO SUN, 10/18). S&E Sponsorship Group President & CEO Brian Cooper said, "It's masterful in terms of transparency and showing in a public forum there are no tricks, we are trying to be straight up and you choose whether you think it's a good deal." The TORONTO STAR's McGran writes this would "appear to be an about-face, one designed to improve Bettman's image and put the heat squarely on the players." Cooper said, "The public perception of Gary is one that is mostly negative. What he's shown here is: We want the players back, we want the game back, there's no secret agenda. Is he negotiating in public? He's negotiating with the public" (TORONTO STAR, 10/18). The L.A. TIMES' Elliott writes the NHL yesterday by releasing the text of its proposal "scored another coup" (L.A. TIMES, 10/18). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Campbell wrote, "We can see now the public relations war is clearly more important to the owners than the players." It will "undoubtedly have a positive effect" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 10/17).
PUBLIC OPINION MATTERS: In Raleigh, Chip Alexander notes the league said that the "unusual move and 'full explanation' were necessary because of incorrect leaks made Tuesday to the media about the details of the offer" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 10/18). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that releasing "precise terms of an offer to the workforce is commonly done and is perfectly legal, as long as there is no attempt to undermine Union leadership, which there wasn't in this case" (NEWSDAY, 10/18). The PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS' Seravalli writes the move "accomplished two things: pushing some of the public pressure onto the players to accept a 50-50 split, and letting every player view the proposal officially from the league's perspective and not from what Fehr is telling them." It was "a significant change in strategy for the NHL -- and it was slightly antagonistic" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 10/18). SPORTING NEWS’ Jesse Spector wrote Daly by the end of the day “was somehow pressed into defending the NHL for doing the right thing, and everyone seemed to despise each other again” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 10/17).
PLAYERS SEEING THROUGH MOVE: In Chicago, Adam Jahns writes the "problem for the league is that the players see the offer as a ploy to gain public favor." The players "still are trying to determine if the NHL's proposal is truly a step toward real negotiations." Blackhawks RW Patrick Kane said, "It's probably a good move by them to put the offer out and make it look like they're offering everything we want, especially to the media" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 10/18). QMI AGENCY’s Chris Stevenson noted a “few players (and some members of the media) got bent out of shape Wednesday after the NHL went public with its offer.” Stevenson: “Save the indignity, guys. It's all part of the to-and-fro in a labour negotiation. Both sides would like to be perceived as being right.” Stevenson continued: “How about the players save their obvious hatred and criticism of Bettman and channel that energy into negotiating?” Fans “haven't heard anything constructive from the players' side since they made an offer during two days of meetings in New York almost five weeks ago.” The NHL now has “made the past two offers, basically negotiating against itself” (QMI AGENCY, 10/17).
DESIGNER PLANS: The NATIONAL POST’s Michael Traikos writes Bettman has “sure done a nice job of staying out of the public’s eye,” something that might be “by design.” The negotiation “becomes more and more about public perception,” and Fehr right now “appears to be trailing Bettman by a goal in this PR war.” Bettman has “delivered the message that the NHL is trying to save hockey," and the "beauty of it is that he managed to do so without attaching his name to it” (NATIONAL POST, 10/18). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Sean Gordon writes the “first point is that optics matter.” The owners are “getting trounced in the court of public opinion, and it was time to try and seize the initiative, even if their proposal appears more conciliatory than it actually is upon deeper reading.” The second thing, from “discussions with several NHL executives over the past few weeks, is there are a number of owners who want this settled.” It is “impossible to say authoritatively that the squishes now outnumber the hardliners, but the offer floated Tuesday suggests the owners are at least attempting to break the impasse on a short timeline” (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/18). In Vancouver, Ed Willes notes on Monday, one day “before the owners finally deigned to table a respectable offer to the players, we invited Province readers to email this space and express their feelings about the NHL lockout.” Within 24 hours, 116 responded but there “wasn't one that stated support for the NHL's position” (Vancouver PROVINCE, 10/18).