OTTAWA - If the NHL wants to talk, the union is willing to listen.
Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, a member of the NHLPA’s bargaining committee, confirmed Tuesday the union will pick up the phone to let NHL commissioner Gary Bettman know it’s ready, willing and able to get back to the table.
With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire Sept. 15 and camps scheduled to open Sept. 21, discussions between the NHL and NHLPA broke down Friday in New York and no further talks are even planned.
“I don’t know if it’s anyone’s court,” said Phillips following an informal skate at the Bell Sensplex.
“We’ve made it clear, and I know we’ll reach out again this week to say, ‘We’re here, we’re available if you want to talk’ because we know nothing is going to get it done if everyone is sitting on the sidelines.”
The league and the players agreed to touch base this week to try to keep the lines of communication open, but both sides are entrenched in their positions which means they really don’t have a lot to discuss. A meeting for the NHL's board of governors has been scheduled for Sept. 13 in New York, two days before a possible lockout. The players also will meet in New York, Sept. 12-13.
Phillips, who was in New York to help NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr craft the latest proposal made Friday during a 90-minute meeting, seemed genuinely surprised the latest offer was dismissed quickly.
He noted the NHLPA believes the framework is in place for a new CBA with a salary cap system similar to what’s being used right now and the players have made significant concessions to try to get a deal done.
“From where we started, basically we started with the current system and we’ve negotiated down from that,” said Phillips. “Every proposal we’ve made: The first one was better than the current system and the last one (Friday) was better than the one before that.”
Clearly, the union was offended by the NHL’s latest offer to give the players 46% of revenues after they collected 57% in the agreement signed in 2005.
“From their side, they came at us with a fictitious number (in their first proposal) that was out of line and made some concessions from that,” said Phillips. “I thought (the NHLPA’s offer) would spur on more talks because those are real numbers we’re talking about and giving up dollars on that, but I guess not.”
Phillips told the Sun Friday he was “optimistic” a deal could still get done before Sept. 15. He is trying to stay positive.
“It was a long weekend. Maybe they just wanted to get that holiday in before this week started,” said Phillips, tongue in cheek. “It’s easier to be more optimistic when there is communication going on. It’s not happening right now, but we’ll wait and see how long it goes.
“It’s disappointing. After we went back to them on Friday and made concessions ... it didn’t seem to get us anywhere. We’ll see how long they go without talking. But, I know from our side, guys are staying (in New York) and we’re available and want to try to get this going.”
As Phillips said, this is all part of negotiations.
“There’s always posturing. That’s what negotiations are. Who knows what is going on (on) their side and what they’re trying to accomplish right now,” said Phillips. “We’d like to see a deal get done. We want to get back playing and it’s not going to get done if we’re not talking.”