NHL Lockout, Day 58: Latest Negotiating Sessions Break Up Over Contract Issues
Hope for the NHL season beginning around Dec. 1 "suffered a major blow Sunday when negotiations in New York between owners and players on individual contract issues bogged down after 75 to 90 minutes," according to Kevin Allen of USA TODAY. NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said that because the NHL "won't budge on contract issues, he doesn't 'see a path to an agreement.'" NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that owners have "made movement, and progress, on 14 of the 17 player contract issues that players are concerned about." However, he also said that "no progress was made on Sunday." Allen reported among owners' demands is "changing unrestricted free agency to age 28 or eight seasons in the NHL (up from 27 or seven), plus a five-year cap on the length of [a] player contract and reduction of a player's arbitration rights." One of the owners' objectives is "to close off the loopholes that teams used to artificially lower the salary cap hit for star players." It was not clear "when the two sides would meet again, but neither would rule out meeting Tuesday in Toronto." Both sides will be in Toronto the next couple days for the Hockey HOF induction ceremonies. Besides the disagreement on player contract rights, the two sides "haven't yet agreed on the major economic issue of how to divide revenue" (USATODAY.com, 11/11). In N.Y., Larry Brooks notes the league is "sticking clause for clause and restriction for restriction to the demands included in its original July 13 proposal to the NHLPA that created the polluted atmosphere under which the NHL has gone dark." The NHLPA has made a proposal "regarding front-loaded contracts under which teams would lose a commensurate amount of cap space previously saved if players on front-loaded deals retire before the end of their respective contracts." The union also made a proposal "under which teams would be charged cap space for players in the AHL on one-way contracts worth at least $1 million." The charge would "be applied on future contracts, not those currently in place." However, the league "refused to consider either proposal" (N.Y. POST, 11/12).
IS SOME PROGRESS BEING MADE? In N.Y., Jeff Klein cited a union source as saying that the two sides "have made far more progress toward ending the lockout than is widely believed." The source said in several areas, “We’re basically there." The source said that they are "fairly close on the critical issue of honoring existing contracts." The issue of "finding a way to pay players with existing contracts in full under a lower salary cap ... had been a stumbling block in previous weeks." But by yesterday, the two sides were "$2 million to $3 million apart per team, per year." The source described the amount as “within spitting distance." The league and union are "even closer to agreement on revenue sharing among clubs, with a plan described as basically done except for administrative details." The system will include a "small fund, similar to baseball’s industry growth fund," that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman can "specially earmark for the neediest franchises" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/11). The AP's Ira Podell noted Daly yesterday said that owners "have conveyed the message to him that these issues are of vital importance in a new deal." While there could be "room to negotiate within the framework, the bottom line on these issues remains the same." Despite reports that talks on Friday "got heated before negotiations ended," Daly yesterday said that he "doesn't feel animosity has crept into the bargaining room." However, if the two sides "can't find common ground, there won't be a deal anytime soon to save the already delayed and shortened season" (AP, 11/11). CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty notes the NHL owners have told Bettman and Daly "to draw the line in the sand on player contracts, and there's no budging them despite the window beginning to slam shut on a Dec. 1 start to the regular season" (CSNNE.com, 11/12).
AN ICY END: ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang noted after a "tense ending to four straight days of bargaining on Friday, the two sides reconvened for an 'informal' lunch meeting Saturday to determine the next step." Talks "went south in the last of three sessions" on Friday, during which the "core economic issues that separate the two sides were discussed." Sources said that the "pivotal meeting ended with some tense exchanges across the table" (ESPNNY.com, 11/11). The AP's Podell noted there were "vocal disagreements at the end of the session, and the union is beginning to feel that the NHL isn't ready to make a deal now, even if the players were suddenly willing to accept the league's offer in full -- which they are not" (AP, 11/10). The N.Y. POST's Brooks in a separate piece cited a source in the negotiating sessions on Friday as saying, “Near the end of the meeting, Don (Fehr) said to Gary (Bettman): ‘Let me get this straight. Even if the players agree to every single component of the league’s economic plan, we still don’t have a deal unless we also agree to every one of your proposed changes to player contract rights?’ ... Gary said: 'Yes'" (NYPOST.com, 11/10).
GAP SPENDING: In Minneapolis, Michael Russo cited league sources as saying that the NHL was "perplexed by a memo" that Fehr sent his "725 constituents on Thursday night that stated there’s a 'significant gap' between the two sides." The league feels the memo "isn't a fair portrayal of what the owners offered." The NHL has been "under the impression that the majority of players are ready to get back onto the ice if revenues are split 50/50 and all contracts are honored in full." The sources said that that is "exactly what the owners have offered the players ... something Fehr did not spell out in his memo." The sources said that the league has "promised to honor all existing contracts and guarantee players their $1.883 billion share -- or 57 percent of last year’s revenue." One source said that in exchange for "going to 50/50 immediately, players would have the reduced part of their salaries (12.3 percent) deferred one or two years, 'and the owners will pay them back, plus interest, and it would not go against their share and the league is guaranteeing it no matter where the revenue of the league goes.'" The league also feels "we're there" on revenue sharing. A source said that the NHL is "basically willing to go with the NHLPA’s proposal other than a couple issues that need to be talked about." The sources also said that it is "untrue that the NHLPA must agree to all the league contract demands." That is "negotiable, with the one area the league feels must be stopped are the back-diving contracts" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 11/9). In Philadelphia, Sam Carchidi noted Fehr after the meeting on Friday "changed his tune, saying the NHLPA does not feel it is as far apart on core economic issues as the NHL says" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 11/10).
FED UP WITH FEHR? YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski wrote the "frustration levels for the NHL with Donald Fehr are off the charts." So now the "gambit is to demonize Fehr, in the hopes that the players will fracture as they did in 2005 and overthrow him." The primary weapon is "frequent accusations that Fehr has misrepresented NHL proposals and withheld information for his constituents." Which is "about as serious a charge you can make about a union head" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/10). TSN's Bob McKenzie wrote the NHL's effort to "discredit Fehr's communication skills was equal parts frustration and tactical." There is "no question the NHL has grown increasingly exasperated by Fehr, who takes passive aggressive to an art form." There is a "notion within league headquarters that he has no interest in making a deal, that he's looking for this dispute to go nuclear so he can either challenge the NHL's entire salary cap system in a protracted battle that would likely carry over to next season or fight the owners for as long as it takes to ... break the cycle of owners putting a gun to players' heads in chronic takeaway negotiations" (TSN.ca, 11/11). In N.Y., Pat Leonard wrote the league has been "frustrated by Fehr’s stall tactics and refusal to work within the framework of the NHL’s proposals for a while, but this was the first open public display of those frustrations" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/10). The GLOBE & MAIL's James Mirtle wrote, "At best, the NHL is likely now looking at a 60-game season starting a month from now, and that’s if they can hammer an agreement out in the next two weeks or so." Minus all of the "principled stands and ill will involved, given how little actually separates these two sides -- financially and on contractual issues -- missing any more time than that would be absurd" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/11).
LESSONS FROM THE PAST: The N.Y. TIMES' Klein in a separate piece wrote if the "resolution of past NHL lockouts is any guide, it will take several agonizing weeks of bargaining" before Bettman and Fehr come to an agreement. The '04-05 lockout, which "wiped out a season, was not settled until the two sides set the stage with more than 30 days of bargaining in May and June." That was followed by "10 consecutive days of talks in July." The '94-95 lockout was "settled after 11 straight days of bargaining." Klein: "Beyond stubborn bargaining, the home stretch in both lockouts also featured a fair amount of sniping" (NYTIMES.com, 11/10). In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote one thing "you have to avoid is believing that we are at a critical stage, or at the brink, or that D-Day is upon us, or any of the terms bandied about to suggest the talks are at a pivotal moment. They're not." The '94-95 lockout was "ended on Jan. 11." The '04-05 season was "cancelled (finally) on Feb. 16, and there were even talks after that." Cox: "We're not even in mid-November yet" (THESTAR.com, 11/9). The STAR TRIBUNE's Russo in a separate piece wrote it "might be best for these two groups to take a few days apart, regroup and take a deep, deep, deep breath after four long days of staring at each other in meetings." At this juncture it might be "healthier for the Big Four -- Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and the Fehr Brothers, Don and Steve -- to resume talks without players and owners in the room" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 11/10).
WINNING BACK FANS: In Denver, Adrian Dater writes no one "will know the effects of the lockout on attendance and television ratings until the NHL resumes." But if "anecdotal evidence is one measure, it won't be pretty for a sport enduring its third lockout since 1994." It seems everybody is "thoroughly fed up with the fight between NHL owners and players" (DENVER POST, 11/12). ESPN.com's Craig Custance gave a few ideas to "get fans excited about hockey again if the NHL returns." He wrote, "Winter Classic doubleheader on Jan. 1 ... Free CenterIce and NHL GameCenter for everyone ... A one-time wild-card play-in game ... Implement NHL realignment immediately" (ESPN.com, 11/10).