NEW YORK - To no one’s surprise, weeks of summer CBA stonewalling are about to result in autumn game cancellations.
That was the only conclusion to draw from three days of meetings between the National Hockey League and the locked out players’ association. While it’s good the sides broke the ice after 12 days of silence, they’ve left far too much to clean up before the scheduled start of the 2012-13 season.
For all their talking about secondary issues, topped by five hours Sunday at league headquarters, the two sides will hold off further talks until they have a chance to review the 14 hours they put in this weekend.
The further bad news was the sides beat around the bush of the biggest obstacle, a new split of hockey-related revenues (HRR).
There’s no way they can settle everything by Oct. 11, not that they haven’t accused each other of dawdling on response time or being inflexible. Bottom line, dark arenas.
“As I’m standing here now, I’m not thinking about (scrapping games),” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Sunday night. “But as the calendar ticks along and we get into October, we’re obviously going to have to start making those decisions.”
Steve Fehr, outside counsel for the players, tried to say the players were willing to hold another round of talks Monday. The PA has temporary office space within walking distance of the league’s headquarters. But the breadth of topics broached this weekend, including an attempt to redefine HRR streams, means plenty of reviews need to be conducted.
“They indicated they had some homework they needed to do,” Fehr said. “They thought it was more productive to work internally (with the chance of meeting again by Tuesday).”
Daly, who has sniped at the players for not coming back with a concise counter-proposal the past few weeks, was at least satisfied to get issues such as player safety, medical, grievance and legal matters into the forum.
“We each have a lot of things to put together and drafts we owe each other on certain things,” Daly said of taking a short hiatus this week. “It’s not like we’re breaking off negotiations. We need a little more time to do some work. They have some work to do, too. What we’re doing the past few days, I don’t think any of that will get a deal done. But they are all necessary elements of a deal.
“The (hockey-related revenue) issues we talked about (Saturday), we need to address again and the ball really sits in their court with respect to coming back to us with a response. I hate to say it because it sounds like a broken record, but we need movement on the economic issues, the system issues. We need those to be scheduled as the subject of a meeting and right now, the union is not prepared to do it.”
As he has done all weekend, Fehr would not comment on whether a new player proposal is coming down the pipe, having maintained the owners’ have not really given them anything they deem workable. The league wanted to switch the PA’s 57-43 split around, then offered to raise it to 49% in the first of a six-year deal. The players say they’re willing to give back to help troubled teams, but not foot the whole bill.
After two days of short, private meetings in which Fehr and Daly ran the general talks, commissioner Gary Bettman and union executive director Donald Fehr apparently did not speak Sunday.
“Don’s been working very hard,” Steve said in his brother’s defence. “There’s a lot to do, thinking about the bigger picture, talking to players.
“It’s true that we could have done this (discuss smaller issues) last week, the week before, or the week before that. I’d say it’s good we were talking. It’s a lot better than doing it three weeks from now. So I think it’s some progress and hopefully, it will continue.”
Daly pointed out this negotiation is almost the opposite of 2004-05, when secondary issues were dealt with after the big enchilada. That was the implementation of the salary cap, what seemed to be a victory for the owners at the time, but now part of a system they deem broken. That season was also cancelled in its entirety.
Daly would like to get HRR settled first “but it’s not playing out that way.”
To give an idea of the wide range and minute micro-issues still to be settled, the players are objecting to a tax they’re assessed on the tickets made available to them by their team, usually two per man per game. They’re taxed whether they use the ducats or not and are now seeking to decline tickets for unwanted games.
The real work has only begun.