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NHL, players tackle 'make whole' issue in another marathon session

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency file photo)

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency file photo)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:09 PM ET

Cancelled on the weekend, the New York city marathon is taking place this week at an undisclosed location, with only the NHL and NHL Players' Association on the run.

The two sides ended another marathon session -- this one more than five hours -- Wednesday night at a secret spot in Manhattan trying to get a collective bargaining agreement in place before the season is lost.

If there was progress made, it was limited but they've agreed to go back to the table Thursday.

While the two sides finally tackled the sticky issue of the "make whole" provision of the league's offer made last month after they spent more than four hours on Day 2 trying to hammer out the matter of revenue sharing.

The meeting got off to a late start -- NHL and the union didn't get into the same room until 3:30 p.m. EST -- because both sides wanted time to study their options before returning to the bargaining table.

Sources say commissioner Gary Bettman is under a lot of pressure from several owners to get a deal to save some of the season and it may be in NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr's interest to strike while the iron is hot.

The league and union have to find a way to come to an agreement on the "make whole" issue to move this process forward. The "make whole" is a huge hurdle for the players because they feel they're going to be forced to fund any shortfall in revenues.

The NHL has verbally offered to cover off any potential losses, but the players aren't sure what they're going to do to ensure it doesn't cost the union money and that the players receive 100% of the existing contracts.

"Make whole" will be back on the table again along with revenue sharing and contracting issues. Yup, all matters they've discussed in the last two days.

"(Fehr) has got to make a deal at some point," said a league insider Wednesday. "For him to have the owners even thinking about picking up (the make whole) is a good thing. That's a great deal for the players if that happens."

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier told the St. Pete Times Wednesday the "make whole" provision was a dealbreaker for the players.

"You sign a deal, the honourable thing to do is keep your word," Lecavalier said. "That was something that was a huge discussion (among the players) and with everybody. You sign a deal. You want the team to honour it."

Lecavalier added the players who went through the lockout in 2004-05 are still bothered by the 24% rollback they were forced to accept after the season was cancelled, along with a salary cap when the CBA was signed.

"Guys don't want to go through that again. You sign something. It's a mutual agreement. It should be honoured," said Lecavalier.

The two sides decided to put the issue of how they were going to achieve 50-50 and cover all the existing deals aside during Tuesday's seven-hour session and focused on the contracting issues involving the players.

Sources say they don't believe there was much in the way of progress made despite the length. The NHLPA told the league in no uncertain terms they weren't going to accept five-year contract-term limits and changes to arbitration.

The NHL might be willing to back off on those issues.

"The players have been the only one to give up any real concessions," said a source with close ties to the union.

There has been speculation the league has already started working on a 60-game schedule -- without play between the East and West conferences -- that would start Dec. 1. Training camp would tentatively open on Nov. 24 if a deal is in place soon.

But, it's too early to even think about what the league and schedule might look like this season. The two sides need to get an agreement and sources say if the talks get serious, it make take awhile.

"This could go on for several days unless they're able to get some real momentum," said a league source.

If these discussions can lead to the end of the lockout, it will have been worth the wait.

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @sungarrioch


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