October 19, 2012
Are NHL labour talks headed for a freeze or just a chill?
By BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency
Will there be a cooling-off period or a deep freeze?
All was quiet on the NHL labour front Friday after a blustery Thursday that saw commissioner Gary Bettman take one look at three proposals for a collective bargaining agreement from the NHL Players' Association and quickly dismiss them.
That there wasn't any formal discussion Friday and none are planned at the moment isn't good news. The NHL has set a deadline of next Thursday to have a deal in place for a one-week training camp and have the season open Nov. 2.
The decision by Bettman left union executive director Donald Fehr with a bad feeling.
"I don't get upset. I don't get excited. It's just another indication that this is going to be fairly long road," Fehr said in a one-on-one interview with QMI Agency late Friday.
Bettman and Fehr both walked away from Thursday's talks at the union's offices in Toronto frustrated by what was happening on the other side of the table, which is why nothing further is planned.
"If there are not talks on the weekend that's not good news because then there's not a chance they're going to be able to have an 82-game season," a league insider said Friday. "The Nov. 2 deadline is real. The clock is ticking."
Fehr ignored a proposal put on the table Tuesday by Bettman which featured a 50-50 split in revenues. Instead, the union rejected it and tabled three different scenarios that eventually would get them to a 50-50 split by their calculations.
None of them made any sense to Bettman and Co.
So, who picks up the phone next?
"I don't know yet," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an e-mail Friday to QMI Agency. "We left it with them."
The NHL is willing to address concerns the union has with the proposal tabled Tuesday, but it will refuse to rewrite with massive changes. Bettman already has gone further than he promised several owners he would by offering up the latest deal.
Daly said the NHL told Fehr to call if the union wants to discuss the Tuesday offer. The union's biggest concern is a "make whole" clause that calls for the players to pay into a fund that would be redistributed to pay salaries.
Essentially, a percentage of players' existing contracts would go to paying players. If it sounds like the NHL benefits, it does. If there is to be a deal the league knows it has to find a way to make Fehr comfortable with the system.
"We remain prepared to negotiate around the edges of the proposal we gave them Tuesday and that if the terms of the "make whole" was the only thing separating us, we should talk about it. I'm sure they are mulling it over," Daly said.
Mulling it over or waiting the league out?
That's a valid question. Sources say there's a belief in the union offices that pressure from the owners is mounting on Bettman to get a deal and the decision to put an offer on the table Tuesday was nothing more than a sign of pure panic.
The players believe Bettman is not only getting some heat from some governors who want to play, there's also pressure from executives at NBC who are concerned with the replacement programming in the United States.
Fehr indicated he'll return to trying to find a solution.
"We're available at anytime. Where the commissioner left it was: (Don't call) unless you're prepared to tell me you'll accept everything that's on the table ... (or) if you want you can call me about that 'make whole' provision. There's no point. What am I supposed to do if I believe him."
There's no point. What am I supposed to do if I believe him?" Fehr said.
There was a little good news for the players Friday. Fehr confirmed he has worked out the final escrow numbers for last season with the league and by Oct. 30 the players will receive 99% of what they paid back last season.
That might be the only money the receive for a while.