Wednesday, July 18, 2012
NHL labor talks resume in NYC
By Katie Strang
NEW YORK -- The NHL and NHL Players' Association met Wednesday in the latest round of discussions over the league's collective bargaining agreement.
The meeting lasted approximately 2½ hours, the majority of which devoted to a more detailed explanation of the league's initial proposal submitted last Friday.
The proposal, which reportedly included salary rollbacks, term limits, a decreased share and a redefinition of hockey-related revenue, was the subject of further review and scrutiny by the 15 players in attendance, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and several lawyers.
"The purpose of the meeting was for them to give us a more detailed explanation of the proposal they made last week," Fehr said outside the league offices in midtown Manhattan. "They did that. We got certain additional information. We indicated there was some further information that we've requested. Hopefully, we begin to get that tomorrow and begin to talk about some of the aspects of it."
Fehr declined to divulge the specifics of the NHL's plan, which sent reverberations across the league by the concessions it would require. But Fehr confirmed the NHL asked the players to reduce their share in hockey-related revenue.
"Yeah, I think that's fair," Fehr said. "They certainly were."
However, Fehr did not say whether he thought the negotiations will hinge solely on givebacks.
"That remains to be seen," he said. "I hope not."
According to a report in the New York Post, the league's initial proposal asked for the players to accept a reduction in their share of the gross -- from 57 to 46 percent -- while also allowing a redefinition of hockey-related revenue that would unquestionably reduce the sum from which those numbers are determined.
The Post also reported the NHL is aiming for five-year term limits on contracts while also prohibiting signing bonuses and front-loaded deals that allow teams to massage a player's salary-cap hit. The league also is seeking a 10-year period until a player is granted the right to unrestricted free agency, an extension on entry-level contracts from three to five years, and the elimination of salary arbitration altogether.
"I don't want to categorize the published reports as to what is in it with any degree of specificity," Fehr said. "But I think that the overall reaction to the kind of reductions that are contemplated ought to be obvious."
Neither side indicated negotiations have become contentious, despite the proposal that struck some as a simple jumping-off point and others as downright insulting.
"There wasn't much of a reaction," said Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky, who joined teammate Henrik Lundqvist and others including Manny Malhotra, Scott Hartnell, Kevin Westgarth, Jason Chimera and Kyle Okposo. "I think everybody's expecting us to say how upset and disappointed we were, but it's a negotiation and that was our starting point.
"We've just got to try to work through some of the issues and stick together and make sure we go back and take the numbers and find out where exactly they come from and the reasons they're asking for what they're asking for and come back and try to form an opinion on it that way."
The NHLPA has not made any counterproposals yet, and will wait to do so until they have gathered all necessary information after the league's first outline.
"[The NHL's proposal] wasn't very shocking," Malhotra said. "It was no surprise. I think the union as a whole, we're in far better shape than we were in the past -- the unity that we have, the education we have as a whole, and the way that information is being passed around. So I guess there's a general sense of ... no one really flew off the handle. No one got too wrapped up emotionally. We knew it was coming."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman refused to elaborate on the discussions beyond conceding that the dialogue has been "constructive."
"I won't characterize the negotiations," Bettman said after Fehr's meeting with the media. "We met for about two hours and 15 minutes. This session was very much like previous sessions and we still have a lot of work to do in a relatively short period of time, but I think everybody's working hard at it."
When asked if, as Fehr previously suggested, the league still could operate under the current CBA should a deal not be in place by Sept. 15, Bettman responded: "I'm worried about getting a new deal done, not what happens if we don't."
Fehr reiterated his stance on that issue:
"The law doesn't require that the industry shut down if you don't have an agreement," he said. "Somebody has to choose to shut it down. At the moment, I see no reason to do that from the players' side. That's what I said. Hopefully they won't either. We'll see."
The two sides plan to meet again for more discussions Thursday and Friday.