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Friday, November 16, 2012
Updated: November 17, 1:38 PM ET
New voices needed in labor talks

By James Murphy
ESPNBoston.com

The time has come for NHL players and owners to show they really care about the state of the league and the game of hockey.

As the lockout drags on -- the latest news is that commissioner Gary Bettman wants a two-week break from talks, according to sources -- there are increasing whispers that moderates on both sides would much rather come to an agreement than see another NHL season go down the drain.

Problem is, these moderates are not at the negotiating table and their opinions don't seem to be driving the talks. How else do you explain such a lack of progress that NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he was more discouraged now than at any other point in the negotiations?

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Levelheaded people on both sides want to see the league continue to build the momentum it has gained over the past seven seasons under the recently expired CBA. We've already lost games through the end of November and the Winter Classic on Jan. 1. Soon, they'll be canceling games through mid-December. The step after that could wipe out an entire season.

Enough is enough. Before it's too late, it's time for the voices of reason to step forward now and add some substance to a bargaining process that to date has been more about posturing, greed, stubbornness and revenge.

Earlier this week, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby warned that if things keep going the way they're going, "Everybody is going to lose."

"I don't think there's much negotiating going on. I think as far as the proposals are concerned, it's just kind of at a standstill right now," Crosby told reporters in Pittsburgh. "Nobody's moving a whole lot on their side, and I think that we've made steps to show that we're willing to negotiate. I don't think that's really happening on the other side.

"The desperation to play doesn't really seem like it's on their side. I think there's a deal to be made, but I think negotiations have to be made if there's going to be a deal. If it keeps going like this everybody's going to lose, there's no way around it."

Crosby is correct when he says "everybody's going to lose," but what's missing is the "desperation to play" that he insists the players feel. Are those desperate voices being heard by union head Donald Fehr and Co.?

This scribe has spoken to various NHL players throughout the lockout, and often the players have been asking what's going on instead of the writer learning details from the players. The NHLPA continues to preach transparency, and Fehr vehemently defended himself against NHL accusations that he wasn't relaying all of what has been discussed inside the negotiating meetings.

An NHL player who was on the last teleconference held by Fehr with the players differs with Fehr's assessment. In a conversation with ESPNBoston.com, the player wondered whether players who aren't in attendance at the negotiations have been privy to all the information and details of each proposal that has been made.

"In the last conference call, a player asked Don why he was learning details of the NHL's last proposal through the media and not via Don or the players in attendance," the player told ESPNBoston.com. "Don and some other players called that player out and basically embarrassed him for asking that."
NHL lockout poster
Fans want their hockey back and moderates on both sides are itching to play ... so why isn't any progress being made?

Instead of being shouted down, this player should stand as an example of what's necessary to move the needle in these negotiations: More players need to press their leadership on the importance of not losing any more time. They've been too passive in counting on Fehr's judgment to guide them through this mess. More players should be asking questions. More players should be speaking up.

With the negotiating process at such a do-or-die point, would it hurt for players like Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference -- who has expressed unwavering support for Fehr since helping him become executive director -- to come home from Europe and stand by their comrades in the meetings?

Now is the time for all opinions (popular or not) to be heard and respected, not just those that have been heard regularly. It's time for new voices to enter the discussion. Instead of remaining anonymous for this story, that unnamed player could've helped the cause and stood up for the player who was called out for asking questions.

It's time for the NHLPA to act like a real union and be open to other opinions, not just the stubborn ones currently guiding the talks.

The same goes for the owners' side. On Nov. 1, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk broke the league's gag order and told Prime Time Sports radio show host Bob McCown, "We should be playing," and compared his disenchantment as a baseball fan following the strike in 1994 to how fans will react if another full NHL season is lost due to a lockout.

"Back in '94, I was a rabid baseball fan -- I'm talking, like, a 40-45 game guy when I still lived in Toronto. I saw the World Series and [the Blue Jays] winning it, went to Atlanta. I was a crazy, crazy baseball fan, and after the strike I was gone," Melnyk said. "[I'm] extremely disappointed like any fan of where we are. We should be playing hockey by now."

Melnyk is known as a hawk and hard-liner among the NHL owners. If a hard-liner like him can speak up and tell it like it is, why can't those moderate owners who behind the scenes are telling people they just want to play?

While Bettman needs just eight of 30 owners' votes to cancel the season, the eight who might be ready to vote against an agreement could be swayed if more public pressure was put on them.

Crosby is absolutely right that there needs to be more desperation -- but that goes for both sides. He calls out the owners, but he should also call out his fellow union members. It is time for players to take action instead of waiting out the lockout playing overseas or remaining in the shadows.

It's also time for Melnyk and others to call out the likes of Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs or Flyers owner Ed Snider, who are two of the most influential execs and are believed to be pulling the strings on the owners' side.

There was finally some optimism when the sides spoke for several days last week. But now we get word that there has been no progress and they're suggesting a break in negotiations?

Enough.

If the voices of reason on both sides don't do something soon to alter the conversation, they risk the current leadership on both sides steering this Titanic into another iceberg and sinking another season.