NHL Lockout, Day 53: Optimism Emerging After Union, League Hold Marathon Meetings
The NHL and NHLPA yesterday held a "seven-hour negotiating session at a secret location" that ended at 10:15pm ET with "both sides declining to disclose the nature of discussions," according to Chris Johnston of the CP. The meeting was "held in a private setting to maximize the chance for progress and the only hint any was made came from the fact negotiations would spill over into another day." Before talks resumed yesterday, NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "expressed a desire to see the parties start closing in on an agreement that would end the lockout." Penguins C Sidney Crosby, who attended the last formal meeting between the two sides on Oct. 18 in Toronto, "ended up making a 'last minute' decision to fly into New York for this one." He was "among 13 players" who joined the NHLPA contingent. A "handful of team owners took part as well." The "best-case scenario would seem to be a shortened schedule beginning on Dec. 1, although there remains time to drop the puck before then if a deal is reached soon." It is expected teams will "hold seven-day training camps that begin once a new CBA is ratified" (CP, 11/6). Sportsnet's John Shannon said both sides "realize the importance of the next seven to 10 days if we are to get a season of say 68 or 70 games that’s going to start around December 1st." Having players like Crosby attend the negotiations “doesn’t hurt,” and it is “as important for the other members” of the NHLPA “as it is for the people across the table” (“NESN Daily,” NESN, 11/6).
LEAVING A GOOD IMPRESSION: In N.Y., Larry Brooks writes there is, "perhaps for the first time since the lockout was instituted on Sept. 16, a sense of optimism grounded in reality that the doors will open on a 2012-13 NHL season, perhaps as soon as the day after Thanksgiving." The NHL, which three weeks ago "proposed that escrow losses created by an immediate reduction in the players’ share of hockey-related revenue from 57 to 50 percent be paid on a deferred basis by the players themselves, signaled willingness last week to pick up a portion of the share, if not all of it." Though the "formula was unknown before yesterday, this move prompted a meeting on Saturday" between NHL Deputy Comissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr at which "hypotheticals were exchanged." Though the league has canceled all games through November, it is "believed the possibility remains a season of up to 70 games could start on Black Friday with the originally scheduled NBC broadcast" of the Rangers-Bruins if the "length of yesterday’s meeting is indeed a signal of meaningful progress" (N.Y. POST, 11/7). CSNPHILLY.com's Tim Panaccio wrote there is a "belief within both sides that if the traction they found over the weekend multiplies, it can lead to sustained talks that will end the lockout." While yesterday's session was the "longest to date," a source said that there is "considerable ground that still needed to be bridged to forge an agreement." Panaccio noted the goal is to "get a deal done by mid-month, open training camps and play on Black Friday -- at the latest -- with a 60-game season or better" (CSNPHILLY.com, 11/6). In Winnipeg, Gary Lawless writes it appears the two sides "are willing to trade and pass concepts back and forth across the table." The posturing has been "significantly downgraded" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 11/7). SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote under the header, "Good News The Order Of The Day In Labor Talks" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 11/6).
ROOM BIG ENOUGH FOR BOTH BETTMAN, FEHR: In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch notes while "neither side presented a new proposal," the fact NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "re-entered the room" with Donald Fehr "sparked guarded optimism this might be a step toward a resolution" (OTTAWA SUN, 11/7). In Vancouver, Iain MacIntyre writes there was a "danger that the reintroduction" of Bettman and Fehr would "amp up tension and egos and the players and owners would revert to the Bloods and Crips and start flexing at one another across the negotiating table." But from what "little news was emanating" late yesterday, it "seems Bettman and Fehr were finally able to begin discussing ways of re-starting" the league (VANCOUVER SUN, 11/7). Meanwhile, the GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin writes "clear-eyed observers believe that this CBA will be done in spite of" Bettman and Fehr, "not because of them." Hockey is "all about those Ws and Ls in the standings," and so are Bettman and Fehr "when it comes to their resumes." They are both "obsessed by the Big W at the end of the process that says they broke the other guy." They have been "commanded to get a deal that starts hockey by next month if they want a full season" (GLOBESPORTS.com, 11/6).
STILL WORK TO BE DONE: In Toronto, Kevin McGran writes Fehr, his negotiating team and the players "still have a lot to work through before any thought of saving the season is considered." For instance, the "big news from the weekend that the league seems willing to pay contracts in full while at the same time getting the union to a 50-50 split with hockey related revenue remains very much up in the air." The NHL has "another long wish list in a bid to constrain costs" on the $3.3B business. Indications were that the league "wasn't going to budge on its series of contract restrictions." There were items "still on the table Fehr didn't mention that could prolong talks even if there's quick agreement to the 50-50 split, the 'make whole' provision on salaries and targeted revenue sharing" (TORONTO STAR, 11/7). Crosby said that neither he nor Penguins RW Craig Adams had "planned to attend the New York meeting as of Monday, but a union conference call that night forced a change in plans." In Pittsburgh, Rob Rossi notes Adams "declined to provide details of that call," but Penguins LW Pascal Dupuis yesterday said that the labor dispute was "now mostly about the guaranteeing of current deals and structural issues, such as entry-level contracts and free agency." Several Penguins players said that they also "believed the manner in which guaranteed contracts will be honored was the major barrier between the NHL and union." That sentiment "suggested owners and players had bridged the gap on a timetable for a 50/50 split of revenue on the next labor deal -- though neither league nor union officials would confirm an agreement on that issue" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 11/7).
DEALING BEHIND THE SCENES? The OTTAWA SUN's Garrioch in a separate piece notes the league may have returned to the bargaining table yesterday "to try and help save its precious airtime" on NBC. The first games were "scheduled to be shown in the U.S. on Nov. 23 and the NHL may be trying to get a deal in place with the players' union to keep one of its biggest backers on board before the whole season goes up in smoke." A league source yesterday said, "We knew the Winter Classic was going to be an early casualty and it is. The question now is: How much sway does NBC have? Their (first) game is Nov. 23 and does that date have any significance to the NHL" (OTTAWA SUN, 11/7).
AN ETERNAL FLAME: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Ebner writes since Flames Owner Murray Edwards bought a stake in the team in '94, he has "risen to the top echelon of NHL owners." While other names "get more press," Edwards is a "central player" in the lockout. When the Sept. 15 lockout deadline approached, Edwards "joined a select group" with Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs and Bettman, and "the three men hammered out a failed offer." One owner said of Edwards, "He's become pretty influential. He's a pretty tough guy. He's got a reputation for being a hard-driving deal maker. But he's balanced. Murray cares deeply. He really favours a fair deal." Ebner writes it is "possible he could emerge as a key broker, much like his forebear with the Flames, Harley Hotchkiss" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/7). Meanwhile, SPORTSNET's Mark Spector separated the NHL owners into "hawks" and "doves" and wrote with "relatively new owners" of the Canucks, Oilers and Jets, Edwards "speaks on behalf of the Western Canadian franchises." Spector: "He is known as a tough businessman who will go hard after a better deal if he thinks one is there to be had." The Flames make "all kinds of money, so you can count Edwards in as [a] league man who'll stand in support of all those U.S. owners whose expansion checks he has cashed" (SPORTSNET.ca, 11/6).
CLOSER LOOK AT COMPETITIVE BALANCE: ESPN THE MAGAZINE's Peter Keating writes the NHL "does have one legitimate, chronic problem: Half a dozen or so clubs are in deep financial trouble, even when they perform well on the ice." The Coyotes, Hurricanes, Panthers, Predators and Lightning "lost a combined $51.8 million in 2010-11 and carry debt that averages a whopping 48% of the value of their franchises" (ESPN THE MAGAZINE, 11/12 issue).