SUN Hockey Pool

This crystal ball might knock some sense into NHL negotiators

The home of the Montreal Canadiens, the Bell Centre, in Montreal, Quebec sits idle this week....

The home of the Montreal Canadiens, the Bell Centre, in Montreal, Quebec sits idle this week. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:15 PM ET

NEW YORK - You know it's starting to get late in the labour-negotiation process when ads pop up around Manhattan to watch the New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square.

At this rate of progress, the crystal orb will be landing on the collective heads of Gary Bettman, Bill Daly and the Fehr brothers, who'll still be here arguing whose turn it is to deliver another proposal. Hockey fans, facing a shortened or lost season, would be cheering for a direct hit.

After another two-day session wrapped Thursday night with no tangible movement on core economics, deputy commissioner Daly questioned the need for rushing further debate on secondary issues until hockey-related revenue finally is addressed. His boss, Bettman, and Donald Fehr, the union's executive director, were in the same room for just one hour this week on that key topic, on Wednesday morning.

"As far as I know, Don was supposed to get back to Gary (Wednesday) afternoon or (Thursday) morning, but he hasn't," Daly said outside league headquarters.

The first official cancellation of games -- four on Thursday and a busy weekend that was to include the Los Angeles Kings raising the Stanley Cup banner and the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens meeting on Hockey Night In Canada -- is now a reality. Matches up to Oct. 24 are chopped and more likely will follow next week.

"It's a disappointment, there's no way around that," Daly said when asked about dark arenas on opening night. "I certainly would have hoped and expected we would be in a different place today. I would have expected we'd have an agreement, we would have been dropping the puck.

"I look back at it and, while we were all hopeful that there was plenty of time to get a deal done, maybe the fault lies in the fact that we didn't start negotiations until June 29. That goes back to the level of urgency with the players association and not being prepared to have those discussions."

On Wednesday, Daly publicly challenged the union to submit a new proposal it has been rumoured to be crafting, no doubt hoping it would move closer to the league's desire to balance the 57-43 revenue split in the previous collective bargaining agreement. Special counsel Steve Fehr wouldn't take the bait.

"We're always working on ideas that contribute to proposals and Bill knows that, because I tell him that on a regular basis," Fehr said. "For that matter, we'd like a new proposal from them. No one should be standing on ceremony. If they have an idea or a proposal that can move the process forward, they ought to bring it out.

"Let's keep in mind, they started this with a request for a 24% rollback which they've inched back a little from, in addition to proposals that would severely limit contract rights, which had the predictable result of provoking players. It's further compounded by their strategy of locking out first and then seeing what happens. That's why we're in this mess today."

Any plans to extend this week's meetings to Friday were hampered by conflicts in Bettman and Daly's personal schedules. But Daly indicated the league could hold off on further discussing this week's agenda of drug testing, player safety, grievances and player assignments after the issue is broached regarding hockey-related revenue.

"Until we're tackling the major issues, I'm not sure what the urgency is to meet on a 24/7 basis," Daly said.

"So let's take our time (the next few days), let's redo proposals on the basis of these two days of discussion and when we have that done, it makes sense to meet."

The leaders have thus far promoted their sides as the champions of compromise who've made the most concessions. The players had a grand plan for them to work with richer teams to help the poor cousins.

"We've put forth three different proposals in core economic areas, each of which gave the clubs something meaningful, each of which gave the clubs more than they've had before," Steve Fehr said. "And the owners have really offered the players nothing meaningful in terms of things the players don't have now."

Daly shot back: "We've been down that road a couple of times. It continues to be our belief the union has made one meaningful proposal in this entire process, back on Aug. 14. Now they've made it three times and they're suggesting it's three different proposals (when) not a single dollar changed. We have since then made two proposals with significant financial movement. Bottom line, it's difficult to understand why we should make a third in their direction.

"I understand Steve's comment that (the onus of movement) shouldn't be a ping-pong match, but at some point we have to see a willingness from the association to compromise."

That might not happen until the ball drops, taking the season with it.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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