Make Whole at centre of NHL lockout talks

Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHLPA, with NHLers during talks in Toronto last month. (STAN...

Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHLPA, with NHLers during talks in Toronto last month. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:31 PM ET

The ups and downs that have marked this on-again, off-again dance that passes for a negotiation on a new CBA between the NHL and its players bumped into another stage Saturday.

Up and down, on again, off again.

Now, it’s did they or didn’t they?

As the No. 2s from both sides met in an undisclosed location late into Saturday night, much of the dialogue in the off-the-grid meeting between NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steven Fehr was whether or not the NHL had actually offered to swallow the cost of the controversial Make Whole provision tendered in the last substantive talks between the two sides Oct. 18.

TSN’s Darren Dreger reported Friday evening the NHL owners were prepared to swallow the cost of honouring the existing contracts (in the original offer, the cost would have counted against the players’ take in future years and resulted, from the players’ point of view, in players paying players.)

Getting to the 50-50 split with which both sides seem willing to live is impossible without the players giving up a portion of their existing deals (signed under a 57-43 split in favour of the players) or the owners making good on the existing deals.

It doesn’t sound like there was an official offer, but the concept of how to deal with the players’ position that existing contracts must be honoured and not subjected to a rollback under a new 50-50 division of revenues was likely discussed in conversations between Daly and Fehr the last few days. It’s a reasonable assumption, said one NHL source, that those discussions resulted in both sides believing it was worth meeting face-to-face again.

It sounds like it’s a matter of semantics, all this talk of whether there was an offer or not.

“To characterize a phone conversation as an official offer is at the very least premature...” tweeted Chicago Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers.

In an email to players, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, if you read between the lines (I know, that can be dangerous) certainly seems to back up the scenario outlined by QMI Agency’s NHL source, that informal talks between Daly and Fehr were encouraging enough to result in Saturday’s meeting.

Fehr wrote the players to say there have been no proposals between the two sides since Oct. 18, but that “in informal conversations with the NHL this week, we have continued to explore how we can get back to the table and discussed with the NHL the issues we need to resolve, including the 'make-whole' provision. We will continue to keep you updated and will let you know if anything concrete comes from these discussions. Meanwhile, you should not read too much into media reports about informal phone calls.”

Fehr told the players the idea to meet in an undisclosed location was “to keep the focus on the talks and not on conducting media scrums.”

Probably not a bad idea.

Of course, the cost of the Make Whole provision is dropping day-by-day. The players are losing about a collective $9.3 million a day. Each passing day also brings the NHL a day closer to having those contracts that have to be honoured closer to completion.

There are about 270 contracts that will expire after this season and another 215 that will be up after the 2013-14 season. That’s close to 500 contracts out of the mix in less than two years. That sounds well and good, but you have to also consider that the remaining longer-term contracts which will have to be honoured are those that belong to the stars like Ilya Kovalchuk, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, guys who are making considerable money.

One agent estimated the cost of the Make Whole provision for next season would have been about $230 million given a full season.

Just how much of that the NHL is willing to eat and how long it will take to digest are the big questions to be answered.

 

LUNDQVIST A BRIGHT SPOT

As the NHL and its players continue to incur the wrath of fans for their CBA impasse, there is one bright spot in the storm.

As New York and the rest of the northeastern part of the U.S. continues to struggle with the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is stepping up to help the relief efforts.

Lundqvist tweeted that he will be auctioning off his helmet with the proceeds going to help the disaster victims.

“In support of #Sandy victims, I am auctioning off my helmet. I will post all details on Monday,” tweeted Lundqvist from his official Twitter account. He also posted a picture of the helmet-mask combo via Instagram.

Lundqvist also tweeted: “My thoughts are with you New York. Hard to believe it happen, but I’m confident we’ll be on our feet very soon. After all, we are New York.”

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson

 


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