NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly are "expected to resume" talks with NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr and several players "as soon as Wednesday, with early January now the potential target for somewhere between a 48- and 54-game season to begin," according to James Mirtle of the GLOBE & MAIL (12/11). In DC, Stephen Whyno noted it is uncertain "where the next collective bargaining talks will be held" because the NHLPA "no longer has its temporary office space" in N.Y. (WASHINGTONTIMES.com, 12/10). In N.Y., Pat Leonard writes the four owners who were newcomers at last week's negotiations "were so discouraged by the process" that there is now the question of "which owners, if any, are willing to return to the table and try to sway their peers on the NHL's Board of Governors to accept any proposed deal" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/11). Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Tom Gulitti reports the NHL "plans to have no owners present for the next round of negotiations." Bettman and Daly would "likely be accompanied only by league attorney Bob Batterman" (Bergen RECORD, 12/11). In N.Y., Jeff Klein wrote Bettman may be "at least a month away from a 'drop dead' date for canceling the season" (NYTIMES.com, 12/10). In California, Eric Stephens wrote it is "clear that the NHL is leaving open for now the possibility of starting the season either on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day" (OCREGISTER.com, 12/10). In DC, Katie Carrera writes it is "believed the league doesn't want the regular season to extend into May" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/11). Red Wings RW Dan Cleary: "Our belief is that we're going to pick it up and shoot for a Jan. 1 start. Because if nothing is going on by Jan.1 -- Jan. 15, I think, would be, for me, the be-all, end-all. I know they canceled Feb. 15 last time, but it's not even fathomable to have a season at that point" (FREEP.com, 12/10).
TOO MUCH FOCUS ON FEHR? Senators D Chris Phillips wondered if it is "time the NHL stopped focusing on Fehr and started to think about negotiating." Phillips said, "It just makes me question why (they) are wasting their time worrying about who's in the room and who's not in the room" (OTTAWACITIZEN.com, 12/10). In Raleigh, Luke DeCock writes the NHL's "entire strategy appears to have been designed to discredit Fehr and sow discontent within the union." That "hasn't happened." The NHLPA's goal at this point is "peace with honor, salvaging enough from these negotiations to make it worthwhile" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 12/11). Kings RW Kevin Westgarth, who is the focus of a lengthy Q&A with the N.Y. Times, said, "Guys want to play, but any guy that I've talked to, they understand the issues and they're very, very united. They're all on board with where we're going with the process and very much behind the negotiating committee. It's not just these 15 to 20 guys sitting in a room -- you have 700 -- and that is very nice to hear" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/11). In Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli writes of the “maddening brilliance” of Fehr, whose “tactics have been fascinating.” Fehr has the NHL's negotiating committee “completely flummoxed" and he has "kept them guessing through every peak and valley in these negotiations.” Fehr was hired to “minimize his players' overall loss in these negotiations." He already has "done that -- the NHL players are not getting totally killed with this deal." With each "maddening move along the way, Fehr has gotten his players a little bit more from owners” (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 12/11). Predators D Hal Gill said, "In talking to guys, we're strong, we believe in what we're doing." He added Fehr is "listening to what our concerns are and he's not dictating by any stretch." Gill: "If anything, we're telling him what to do" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 12/11). Jets D Ron Hainsey: "I can't envision a scenario, where without the help of mediation or our leadership, that we can close any deal. I don't see how we do it" (CP, 12/10).
CONTRACTING RIGHTS NEW STICKING POINT: In Buffalo, John Vogl writes in order to finalize a deal, one of the parties "will need to budge on contract term limits" (BUFFALO NEWS, 12/11). ESPN.com's Craig Custance wrote the "fight has become about protecting the middle class with the suggestion from the players that term limits will lead to bigger salary cap hits for the stars and less money left over for the middle class." It is "not a theory shared by the league." Daly yesterday in an e-mail wrote, "Squeezing the 'mid-level player' argument is one we heard for the first time last week. It's much more of a 'This is why we don't want to agree' rationalization, than it is a proven, cogent argument." Custance noted the NHL is "proposing five-year contract limits on signing a player from another team and seven-year contract limits on re-signing your own player (with a five percent variance limit)." The players last offered "an eight-year limit on contracts with a 25 percent variance." Blackhawks RW Jamal Mayers said, "We're not talking about a huge discrepancy here. They're at five and seven. We're at eight. Does anybody else see that?" (ESPN.com, 12/10). Cleary said, "The key with the max deals is going to be the variability. If you have only 5% variability on a five-year deal, that means nothing. The free-agent market becomes not as important. It's going to become a two-tiered salary system, like the NBA" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/11). Penguins D Brooks Orpik said, "It's been tough to identify what exactly their hill is. It's kind of changed throughout the whole process. That's been one of the tougher things to try to figure out with the whole situation. Some guys refer to it as a 'moving target.' At one point, it seems like just (the division/sharing of) money was the issue, and they were willing to forgo all of the contracting rights. Then, the switch flipped and now it's all the contracting stuff that's holding up (an agreement)" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 12/11).
SIDES CAN COMPROMISE TOWARD DEAL: Cleary said, "Gary and Bill, they don't trust the GMs. They've blatantly, openly said that. And they're trying to find systems that they know they can't circumvent or they can't go out and spend all this kind of money. That's what they're trying to do" (FREEP.com, 12/10). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo wrote the sides are "closer to a deal than not provided 1) the NHL's moderate owners that Fehr and the players so enraged last week didn't really move to the hardliner column; 2) the league puts that $89 million 'Make Whole' money back on the table and other proposals." To do that, the players "apparently have to agree to a 10-year CBA with an eight-year mutual out-clause, five-year max deals and 5% max variances in salaries in every contract" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 12/10). In Winnipeg, Ed Tait writes the lockout "will end when either side -- or both -- reaches the threshold of losses it is willing to absorb." In fact, if the lockout "was akin to a heavyweight fight, both corners must be close to tossing in the towel, what with their combatants busted and bruised and bleeding all over the ring." Owners are said to be "losing $18-20 million a day; the players have lost a whopping $558 million to date in salary." Predators C Colin Wilson: "The 50-50 is bad and a 14 per cent reduction (the NHL's first offer had the players' share of hockey-related revenue dropping to 43 per cent from 57) is bad, but I would have played if it wasn't for the fact I don't want to get bullied by the owners anymore. I want to remember this so that when the next CBA comes up we aren't bullied again" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 12/11). YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote amid all the "headline-grabbing stuff since NHL labor talks broke down" last week, "lost were some of the details." There are some "key things that went unreported" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/10).
TIME TO CHANGE THE GAME PLAN? In Toronto, Damien Cox writes the league's strategies "have been flawed -- too lawyer-based, not enough imagination on the communications side -- but Bettman and Co. are just as right in doing what they’re doing" as former NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow was in '04-05. The owners have "all the leverage and they apparently intend on using it, to some degree because they haven’t forgotten the way it was, the way it went." Fehr "doesn’t want the hockey world to remember the previous game in which the players, then coached by Goodenow, were up by 28 points with five minutes to go and were still passing on every down" (TORONTO STAR, 12/11). In New Jersey, Andrew Gross writes all "trust between the sides has evaporated, not that the players had much love for Bettman before this lockout." So has "any pretense of a partnership." The owners have "shown that unless the players abide by their rules, they'll take the pucks and go home" (Bergen RECORD, 12/11). In Detroit, Gregg Krupa writes the players "yield significant ground on almost every major issue, and Bettman and the owners are unrelenting." It is as if the owners are "spending all of their time on the players' end of the ice, scoring at will." So Fehr "rags the puck." He starts "forward, feints back, fakes a pass, delivers one and gets the puck back, all in the hope of yielding as few power-play goals as possible" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/11). In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel wrote, "Unlike when Fehr negotiated labor deals with baseball, he always had the advantage of having several pressure points the league had to deal with that would help force the issue with the owners to make a deal. Namely, television." With hockey, however, there are "not enough outside pressure points the league has to deal with to force itself to make a deal it does not want." Fehr's leverage is "considerably less in this negotiation" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 12/10). In Vancouver, Ed Willes writes it is a "pattern in which the NHL has behaved shamefully, in which it's embarrassed itself and the game it's supposed to represent." Willes: "If you've ever belonged to a union; hell, if you've ever worked for some-one else, you should be enraged by the NHL's conduct" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/11).
ANTICIPATING FAN REACTIONS: In Boston, Steve Conroy notes Bruins President Cam Neely hopes that "whenever a deal is done, Bruins fans will be able to put aside any anger about the lockout and concentrate on the hockey." Neely said, "I know that they're going to be upset, and rightfully so, but I'm hopeful because of what's gone on the past few years." He said, "I think our fans are excited about our team and I don't see that changing. There will be fans who are upset, but that excitement should still be there" (BOSTON HERALD, 12/11). The GLOBE & MAIL's Roy MacGregor notes a Canadian lawyer was "musing privately last weekend over the possibility of season-ticket holders launching a class-action suit against the NHL and its 30 teams." His notion lies in the "possibility that season-ticket holders were deliberately misled when they either purchased or renewed their seats" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/11).
MEDIA MONITOR: Both last night’s 11:30pm ET 90-minute edition and the 11:00pm ET 30-minute edition of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” did not report on the ongoing NHL lockout. The 11:00pm edition featured on the left side of the screen the headline “NHL Lockout Latest” as if the broadcast was going to discuss the lockout but never addressed the issue. The late-night edition of “SportsCenter” aired a 33-second update on NHL CBA negotiations (THE DAILY).