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NHL, players fire shots as lockout talks break off

In a memo sent to players on Thursday, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr noted the two sides...

In a memo sent to players on Thursday, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr noted the two sides have a lot of work to do. (VERONICA HENRI/QMI Agency file photo)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:11 AM ET

All talk, no action and no end to the lockout in sight.

A skirmish broke out between the NHL and NHL Players' Association on Friday after talks broke down and word surfaced the league doesn't feel the union is giving its constituents all the goods on their proposals.

Union executive director Donald Fehr lashed out against the league less than three hours after he walked out of a Manhattan meeting where he sat down with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners with no progress in talks.

While the league claimed they are willing to cover "every dime" of the players' existing contracts in their "make whole" proposal, Fehr said in a press conference that's not the case and the players know it.

"With their make whole proposal, players won't be able to receive every dollar of their deal," said Fehr, who claimed the league and union aren't that far apart in talks. "Their proposal is in front of every player in the room."

Both sides seem unwilling to budge amid the possibility of a season going down the tubes.

Although NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is willing to continue talks with union executive director Donald Fehr, the two sides have made no progress in four days of talks.

This is the first time the NHL and the NHLPA have had meaningful negotiations during this labour dispute but, despite spending 20 hours together this week, they haven't got anywhere because they can't agree on how to split the annual pot of $3.3-billion.

Many are surprised Bettman hasn't walked away from the table, but he has a mandate to get hockey back on the ice. Fehr retreated to his New York office to hold a conference call with the union's bargaining committee.

Sources say the owners were not pleased with a memo Fehr sent to players following Thursday's session that was leaked to media. A copy was obtained by QMI Agency in which Fehr said although the union has offered givebacks, Bettman and the owners want more.

"The concessions on future salary we have offered (at least $948-million to $1.25-billion over five years, depending on hockey-related revenue growth) are not enough," Fehr wrote. "We are still being told that more salaries must be conceded, and that very valuable player contracting rights must be surrendered.

"So, while we are meeting again, and while some steps are being taken, there is still a lot of work to be done and bridges to be crossed before an agreement can be made."

The owners don't feel the players are getting the full story on the "make whole" proposal. The owners insist they've offered to cover every contract and make sure the members of the union get every dime they're owed.

The union is furious about the accusations the players aren't informed.

"Every player is welcome in every meeting," said player representative and Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey.

Fehr said the league wants an immediate drop to 50-50 and the players oppose that move.

"The owners finally did formally give us their 'make whole' idea, which in dollar terms is similar to the discussions Bill Daly had with Steve Fehr a few days ago," Fehr wrote.

"While a step forward, a significant gap remains. Moreover, at the same time we were told that the owners want an 'immediate reset' to 50-50 (which would significantly reduce the salary cap) and that their proposals to restrict crucial individual contracting rights must be agreed to.

"As you know, these include -- among other things -- losing a year of salary arbitration eligibility, allowing the team to file for salary arbitration in any year that the player can file, extending UFA eligibility to age 28 or eight seasons, limiting contracts to five years, and permitting only 5% year to year variability in player contracts. Individually each is bad for players; taken together they would significantly reduce a player's bargaining power and give the owner much more leverage over a player for most if not all of his career."

The union has shown a willingness to go from a 57% share of hockey-related revenues, but it wants to get there gradually with a drop to a 50-50 share in the third year to ensure all contracts are honoured.

Whether talks will resume Saturday is a mystery. Bettman said he was waiting to hear from the union while Fehr believed they would talk. Until the two sides can get traction on the "make whole" proposal then there isn't going to be a CBA anytime soon.

Bettman claimed he was willing to stay in New York and miss the Hockey Hall of Fame festivities in Toronto Monday to continue talks with the union.

"Whatever it takes. We're available," Bettman said. "(It's) always better to be together and talk, when there is something to talk about."

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @sungarrioch


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