Sens' Phillips holds out hope
BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency
|Chris Phillips feels there's still time for the NHL to avoid a lockout. (QMI Agency/DARREN BROWN)
OTTAWA - Chris Phillips hasn’t lost all hope.
The Senators defenceman, a member of the NHLPA’s negotiating committee for a new CBA, returned home from New York on Friday and remained optimistic a new deal will be in place to get training camp started on time Sept. 21.
While he didn’t stick around for the presentation of the proposal by union executive director Donald Fehr that was flatly rejected by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Phillips believes there is still a chance a deal can be struck without a lockout.
The two sides broke off talks before the Labour Day weekend with no new discussions planned. Phillips felt what the NHLPA put on the table Friday might be food for thought for the owners, but Bettman didn’t even give it a second chance.
Before the offer was presented, Phillips felt the gap between the two sides could be bridged.
“We’re moving in the same direction, which is good,” said Phillips. “I’m hopeful. We’ll see how things progress. We’re starting to speak the same language and that makes things a lot easier to come to an agreement.
Estimates indicate the sides were about $900 million apart on the first three years of a new CBA after the NHL changed its offer Tuesday. Phillips said it’s hard to say how close or far apart the sides really are.
Phillips noted until a deal gets done there is going to be a lot of back and forth. Nobody can fault the NHL for trying to lower the players’ share of revenues, but Bettman can’t expect Fehr and the players to just roll over, either.
“Their first proposal: They just threw something out there. I don’t know if that’s the right way to put it, but that’s the case,” said Phillips. “We can’t really say how far apart we are because they just threw that out there.
“We could have gone back and said, ‘We want 70% (of the revenues)’ and then we would have been $2 billion apart. In terms of negotiations, I don’t think that would have meant we were any further or any closer.”
After spending the week in New York sitting in on meetings and helping the union craft its proposal, Phillips is at the centre of it all. He isn’t sure when he’ll return to the table, but has enjoyed getting a firsthand look.
“It’s been really interesting,” said Phillips. “I’ve been to two meetings where we’ve been in big groups and sitting across the table from the other side (NHL) and hearing what they have to say with the conversation going back and forth.
“I’ve found that very interesting. The last couple of days in New York, the meetings were just 2-on-2. We were there and involved, but more so with our own side. We had a lot of discussions amongst ourselves.
“But to be in the room with some of the guys that we have working for us and watching how quickly they can put numbers together and see the effects of the numbers with the system, it’s pretty impressive.”
But the clock is ticking. If there’s no deal in place by Sept. 15, Bettman has indicated the lockout will begin and the chances of camp opening will be doubtful.
“In terms of being hopeful and optimistic, it’s a lot easier to have those feelings when we’re still talking to each other,” said Phillips.
He can only hope discussions resume soon.