NHL, union hold informal talks

Updated: September 7, 2012, 7:16 PM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Formal NHL labor discussions have yet to resume after talks recessed last Friday, but the "Big Four" met in Manhattan for an informal meeting Friday, a source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr along with brother Steve Fehr met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly at league offices to gauge where the two sides stand. Talks broke down last Friday because of a divide on the key economic issues, but there has been a constant line of communication open since.

"Why did we meet? We want to make a deal," Bettman said.

"I know it's difficult when every breath we take is chronicled, but there is an ebb and a flow to collective bargaining negotiation and sometimes it makes sense to get together and sometimes it makes sense to take a breath."

"It's always good to have dialogue," Bettman said of Friday's informal discussions. "And the dialogue never stops, even when we're not formally meeting. The lines of communication have been open and they'll stay open."

The NHL and NHLPA met again Friday evening.

Daly and Steve Fehr went to dinner together Wednesday night and spoke again Friday along with the union chief and NHL commissioner.

"Trying to find a way to bridge the gap. That's always the intent," Donald Fehr said after Friday's informal conversation.

"We expect discussions to resume, perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow. We don't know yet" Fehr said. "There's nothing else to say at this point."

When asked if future discussions will be informal, like today's meeting, Fehr said it's "conceivable" the group could change.

Friday's talks could pave the way for an end to the stalemate in advance of next week's activity. The NHLPA is expecting upwards of 200 players for its player meetings beginning Wednesday. The NHL's Board of Governors will meet on Thursday, when Bettman is expected to lock up approval to impose a lockout next weekend.

Players have often flanked the Fehrs for support in the process, and Friday was no different. Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey, Minnesota forward Zenon Konopka and Buffalo defenseman Robyn Regehr were on hand in New York.

When talks broke off last week, the NHLPA responded to an offer from the NHL with changes to an earlier proposal. The union's most recent offer came three days after the NHL made its first counterproposal last Tuesday. After asking the players to cut their share of hockey revenue from 57 to 43 percent, the NHL upped its proposal to have the players get a 46 percent share over a six-year deal.

The union revised its initial offer by proposing to restructure the fourth and final year of its initial offer. The NHLPA was willing to give back between $465 million and $800 million in revenue over the first three years of the deal as long as the system switched back to the existing agreement in the fourth year.

Donald Fehr countered by proposing "several concepts" in which the players would get less than 57 percent of revenues in the fourth and final year. The NHLPA, however, is still asking NHL owners to establish a revenue sharing program to help struggling teams.

Bettman called revenue sharing "a distraction" and questioned whether the union made an actual counterproposal or a mere response to the league's presentation.

The union has questioned the NHL as to why it is attempting to have players bear much of the burden of cost savings, especially after the league reported record revenues topping $3.1 billion last season.

Aside from asking the players to take an across-the-board cut in their share of revenues, the NHL is also seeking to place severe limits on free agency while also abolishing players' rights to salary arbitration.

The NHL has had three labor disputes since April 1, 1992, when players held a 10-day strike that forced 30 games to be rescheduled. The most recent two were lockouts.

Meanwhile, teams around the league are preparing for a stoppage.

On Friday, in a conference call to announce a new deal for forward Brad Marchand, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli said the Bruins canceled an upcoming rookie camp and tournament. The Detroit Red Wings did the same thing last month.

The regular season is scheduled to begin on Oct. 11.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Katie Strang covers the Rangers, Islanders and Devils for ESPNNewYork.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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