Crucial NHL talks end in ‘frustration’

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr speaks to the media about the recent talks Wednesday in...

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr speaks to the media about the recent talks Wednesday in Toronto. (Jack Boland / QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

TORONTO - The so-called crucial stage of NHL collective bargaining talks began Wednesday morning, but there wasn’t much to hold anyone’s interest beyond lunch.

Four of the big names in the process, league commissioner Gary Bettman, deputy Bill Daly, union boss Donald Fehr and brother Steve, his top lieutenant, gathered at the Bay St. office of the Players Association, ahead of a planned long afternoon session involving larger groups. But Bettman departed before 1 p.m. to the NHL’s Toronto office a couple of blocks away, leaving Donald Fehr to explain why talks were truncated and will pick up Thursday.

“You can probably observe there’s some degree of frustration between the parties,” Fehr said. “But that doesn’t surprise me. We’re better off doing other things (with internal meetings on both sides the rest of Wednesday). We had discussions to hopefully insure we understand one another as to how we saw our respective ways to go forward, meaning to continue discussion.

“Sometimes you schedule things and they don’t come off, sometimes you schedule things and they go longer.

I wouldn’t put any significance (on Wednesday’s lack of progress).”

Fehr said the tone Wednesday was “businesslike”, but it’s still early in the game.

“I don’t read tea leaves,” he joked. “My humble suggestion is your attempt to read them would be accurate to the rate of a dart throw.”

The current CBA expires Sept. 15 and Bettman has warned the players will be locked out if there is no deal in place.

There was some talk Wednesday of “core economics, player contracting and revenue sharing”, though Fehr was reluctant to discuss the nature of those touchy subjects just yet. The players have already offered to take a reduced share of the revenue pie, but the owners want the union’s 57% share sliced to as low as 43%.

There will likely be a further feeling-out process Thursday, but Fehr says the real work will be with larger groups next week when the talks shift to the league’s New York headquarters.

“We expect to be there all next week and maybe thereafter,” Fehr said.

Fehr later conferred with six senior player representatives. This is Fehr’s first experience as the PA’s executive director after years of butting heads with Major League Baseball owners. He says the arduous process is the same, no matter the sport.

“You get up in the morning, you try and work to make progress. If you don’t sign an agreement that day, you keep doing it until you find a way. That may sound trite but it captures the essence of what we’re trying to do.”

 


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