NEW YORK - Bend but don't break.
That was part of NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr's message Wednesday night as more than 275 players descended upon the Marriott Marquis Hotel to open two days of discussions on the status of labour talks.
While the union has tried to keep the rhetoric to a minimum with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, sources have told QMI Agency the players are concerned commissioner Gary Bettman is going to try to break the union.
"He did it once before. He might be trying to do it again," a veteran player said, speaking under condition of anonymity.
After the lockout in 2004-05 and the cancelled season, the NHLPA essentially was torn apart with several changes in the executive office -- including the departure of boss Bob Goodenow.
Since taking over in December 2010, Fehr has worked hard to promote unity among the players. One might think the meeting being held during the next two days will be a big group hug but it's also meant to make sure the players understand what's happening.
"We tell the players everything they need to know in terms of giving them a full and complete understanding," Fehr said. "We answer every question they have and they can see every piece of paper we have from the NHL.
"They can come to all the bargaining meetings and they can participate for themselves. One of the differences between having 30 people who vote and 700 people who vote is it takes a little while longer, especially if you want to have all of them know as much as they possibly can."