SUN Hockey Pool

NHL, NHLPA to meet Friday

NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) head Donald Fehr (R) waves as he arrives with players for meetings...

NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) head Donald Fehr (R) waves as he arrives with players for meetings at the NHL offices in New York this week. (REUTERS)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:11 PM ET

NEW YORK - What better time than Labour Day weekend to work at averting a hockey labour war?

All eyes will be on Sixth Ave. on Friday morning when Donald Fehr and the players make another visit to league headquarters, armed with the proposal that could head off a lockout, set to begin Sept. 15.

Depending on what’s in the union package — which should be key elements that both sides introduced in earlier exchanges — there might be the breakthrough on “core economics” that has thus far pre-empted many other vital collective bargaining issues. Or it could be a further entrenchment of the union’s reluctance to take a much lower revenue share than their current 57% and eat higher escrow payments.

The latter scenario would almost certainly set the stage for the league’s third lockout in 18 years, though players won’t really feel the pain until mid-October when they start missing pay cheques.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has some idea of what’s coming down the street on Friday, based on Wednesday’s chat with Fehr, the players association executive director. Daly and commissioner Gary Bettman authorized the release of updated 2011-12 league financial data for the union to study Wednesday night and all day Thursday, while discussions were put on hold.

Fehr, his legal team and a group of players combed through the numbers to prepare their response.

“Don gave us some areas to focus on, some of the issues we had concerns about,” Daly said. “But I don’t want to speculate as to what he might come back with.

“We’re hopeful it’s a meaningful proposal that we can continue to make progress from. We feel we made a good step in that direction earlier this week (when Bettman brought a threatened player revenue split from 43% back up to 46%) and hope that they would take a step forward as well.

“Obviously the clock is ticking. We’re almost into September now. As every day goes by, it’s less and less likely that we can come to closure on all the issues we need to.”

This latest exchange takes place with a holiday weekend coming up and the likely need for Bettman and Daly to take a day or two digesting the players’ plan as Fehr did with the league offer this week. Daly said he’s ready to host more meetings this weekend.

“It will depend on the nature of the proposal, the structure of the proposal, how detailed it is.

The positive thing is that both parties are committed. If there are reasons to meet, then we will, as often as it takes to get a deal done.”

The confusing part for fans, apart from the econo-jargon of escrow and HRR, is why a lockout deadline that was foreshadowed months ago was able to creep up with so little done to try and settle. The owners blamed the players for not coming to them until the summer with a concrete offer, the players insist both sides could have lived with extending or just tweaking the old CBA.

The sides have now left themselves very little wiggle room, particularly if Fehr adopts a harder line. But Daly says he can deal with a curveball or two if the players have a new approach no one has thought of.

“We’re not married to the structure,” he said. “If it’s a good proposal and it takes a different route, we’re open to that.”

A board of governors meeting is scheduled for Sept. 13 in New York where the teams will likely either rubber stamp the lockout order or vote on a new CBA. A simple majority vote of the 30 teams is needed if Bettman recommends a deal, but three quarters is required if he doesn’t.

Maintaining unity is not guaranteed on both sides. With more than 700 players to corral, someone will surely get antsy if there is no hockey in January and go public with his dissent. And the owners of the successful flagship franchises, many of them in Canada, have different goals they want achieved in this next deal than some struggling teams they’re propping up.

That puts importance upon agreeing on a definition of HRR — hockey related revenue — satisfying rich and poor teams and rewarding the players with a salary structure that can flourish in the life of the next CBA as the current deal. And time is not on anyone’s side.


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