NHL, NHLPA fail to make meaningful progress
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
|Donald Fehr, executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association, speaks at a news conference in New York last month. (REUTERS)
NEW YORK - Sensing the wind was blowing in the right direction Wednesday, the NHL tried to smoke the players' association out of its Manhattan office into making a new proposal.
But well-trained in CBA survival, the Fehr brothers aren't ready to move, at least on the league's terms.
Armed with a favourable ruling from the Alberta Labour Relations Board on upholding the lockout in that province and with the cancellation of regular-season games becoming official Thursday, deputy commissioner Bill Daly badgered the union to bring its rumoured new offer to the table before more games are lost.
Daly said between $240 million and $250 million has already been sacrificed through the spiking of the exhibition season and the scuttling of 82 games up to Oct. 24.
"It's unfortunate for both of us, because it's a significant amount of money that the players share in, whatever the percentage ends up being," Daly said. "More disappointing from our collective perspective is that we felt the past seven years we built up a lot of momentum in the business, had a lot of growth ($3.3 billion last year). Who knows what a work stoppage will do to that?"
Daly pleaded to the players to show something new after an hour's meeting with Donald and Steve Fehr and commissioner Gary Bettman did not make much headway on the split of hockey related revenues. A larger four-hour gathering on other issues solved little.
"We hear, we understand, it's been suggested to us privately and publically over time ... that they've been working on some concepts and ideas," Daly said of the players. "We've suggested to them just make the proposal. Let's not stand on formalities. If you have a proposal, make it. There shouldn't be reluctance if you have one.
"Any movement is better than none at all, even if we move sideways. Hopefully, we move it forwards, but even if we move backwards, it might be better than where we are now."
But to work under the league's timetable, after the players believed they made a sensible revenue-sharing plan to save weaker teams, is not going to fly.
Steve Fehr, the players' special counsel, fired back that the owners forced the nearly month-long lockout because they're trying to claw back too much. After taking the initial salary rollback in the last CBA, offering concessions a few weeks ago and having the league quickly reject their plan, the Fehrs are wary of what goes into their next offer, if they do indeed move next.
"Games are not cancelled because there was no agreement as the clubs say in their statement," Steve Fehr argued. "Games were cancelled because the clubs chose to institute this lockout and are not backing off from it. It's unfortunate, but you do what you have to do.
"I wouldn't say (talks) are dead in the water. The sides are in constant communication and have a pretty good sense of where each other is. I think the league has said it will not necessarily stick by the same proposals as time goes by and the union has said the same thing."
But when Daly warns of moving backwards, he means executive director Donald Fehr's oft-mentioned threat to put the salary cap back on the table. Though most thought the cap was now part of the 21st century NHL, Fehr has said "it's not carved in stone" and to turn it into a bargaining chip would surely make a deal this season even more difficult.
"Certainly (Fehr's cap comments) have been mentioned at times over the summer," Daly said. "If that's the direction they choose to go, it's up to them. They've suggested they want to get back on the ice soon, but I can assure you if they make that proposal, it won't (happen)."
The big four had no firm plans to meet again on Thursday, the last scheduled day here this week aimed at clearing up health and safety, grievances and other miscellaneous matters as a prelude to the big enchilada, HRR. Steve Fehr sounded a bit optimistic about what happened in Wednesday's afternoon meeting.
"They were good discussions, just a shame they're going on in the midst of a lockout. We could have been doing it while we were playing or a month or two months ago."
But Donald Fehr didn't attend the afternoon session after the abbreviated talk with Bettman, while Daly saw few positives from Wednesday. He hinted the players keep bringing up new, unexpected items.
"I don't think we made a lot of progress today to tell you the truth. There continues to be some points of disagreement in things we talked about, both in health and safety and some of the new things the association wants to introduce to this CBA. In some other issues, we butted head a little bit, too.
"We've kind of refined issues over time and agreed on some. I think we're getting to a point where we're bumping into (serious disagreement) and that doesn't surprise me. It' all part of the process, but I'd have to say today, we didn't really move the ball forward that much."
Daly said the thought of scrubbing games beynd Oct. 24 has not yet crossed his mind.
"I think we still have a little bit of cushion to try and make that judgement. Today is Oct. 10. So we have a little bit of time before we make that next move. But obviously, the days go by."
Is there a doctor in the house? How about one who's out of the house?
The players were pressing one of their biggest concerns on the medical front at Wednesday's CBA session, expanding options for a second opinion on both the severity of an injury and the projected recovery time.
Doctors employed by the club used to have the last word on treating injuries, but that unwritten rule was relaxed in recent years as clubs allowed players to seek input from outside specialists. During his most recent concussion scare, Sidney Crosby did get the Pittsburgh Penguins' blessing to be evaluated elsewhere, if it meant the star forward would have peace of mind and could get back sooner.
The two sides also discussed drug testing again Wednesday and will likely continue that Thursday, along with legal procedures, such as filing future CBA grievances. The players seek improved "information flow" detailing each side's grievance positions.