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Saturday, January 28, 2012
Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr: No date yet

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

OTTAWA -- Although Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr will meet next week, both sides say it does not signal the beginning of collective bargaining. With hockey fans anxiously hoping next season won't be in jeopardy, the kickoff of formal CBA talks still has no agreed start date.

"I don't know yet, there will obviously be some preliminary discussions to set things up and talk about things," Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, told assembled media Saturday. "Obviously, my preference will be when we get to the real significant sessions to do it at a point in time, which is rather more likely to have players present easily than less. But we'll know sometime in the next few weeks how that's going to play out."

The league reiterated again Saturday that it is ready whenever the players' union wants to sit down and talk.

"My guess is, at least informally, we'll have some discussions in the not-too-distant future," said Bettman, the league commissioner. "I'm not prepared to say when the formal negotiations will begin. That's a call we've pretty (much) left to the players' association.

"But the union has had some work to do. Don Fehr, obviously being somewhat new to the job, is going through a bit of a learning curve and wants to make sure he understands what his constituents want. And so, we're patient. I'm not concerned about the time frame."

The two sides have been saying for nearly a year that CBA talks would begin sometime after the All-Star Game in Ottawa. The current CBA, which is in its seventh year, expires Sept. 15 at midnight ET.

Fehr, the longtime baseball union chief, downplayed the significance of the formal start of talks.

"There's this view that somehow if you have this big meeting and everyone comes and takes pictures of a dozen or two dozen people sitting around a table like the auto workers used to do, that somehow magically that signifies the kickoff of something in a formal way and that the world is different as between before and after," Fehr said. "That's largely untrue. ... Don't make more out of it than is there."

The NHLPA wants to collect more financial information from teams and the league before commencing formal talks.

"There's significant information we don't have," Fehr said. "We have overall revenue numbers for almost all things -- that's what HRR (hockey-related revenue) consists of. And we have the player-cost numbers. But we don't have the rest of it."

When formal negotiations do begin, the question is just how this process will go after the last labor battle cost the entire 2004-05 season.

"My hope is that we can reason together and that collective bargaining will be painless and quiet and quick," Bettman said Saturday. "That would serve everyone's best interest."

Buoyed by the recent deals done in the NBA and NFL that saw the players' revenue share shaved, the NHL is expected to try to reduce the players' current share of 57 percent of HRR.

To which Fehr had this to say: "I'm simply going to point out: There were three negotiations. The third one was baseball. ... They went through the third negotiation in a row without a stoppage, the second one without even a hint or suggestion of it, without deadlines being set by anybody."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.