NHL, players meet briefly in NY

Updated: November 12, 2012, 12:43 PM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The NHL and NHL Players' Association met briefly Sunday in a failed attempt to tackle player contracting issues, leaving little hope a labor deal will be reached soon.

Both NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said they don't know how a labor agreement can be reached given Sunday's negotiations.

"I just don't, right now, given their opposition to addressing some of these issues, know where we go," Daly said.

The sides plan to touch base Monday -- when Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman plan to be in Toronto for the Hockey Hall of Fame ceremony -- but have no immediate plans to meet again.

Both sides are digging in on player contracting issues. According to Fehr, the league said it has no plans to further negotiate what it previously offered.

The league's last full proposal Oct. 18 included several elements the NHLPA didn't like: long-term contract limits of five years; strict variance rules to avoid back-diving contracts; 28 years of age or eight professional years before free agency; two-year entry-level deals; and salary arbitration after five years of service.

Fehr The owners made it clear that there is no give with respect to any of their proposals. That unless players are prepared to take -- and this is my phrase, not theirs -- down to the comma, that there's nothing to do.

-- NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr

And while several reports suggested the league was willing to bend on some of those -- although never the strict variance rules, believed to be of paramount importance to the owners -- that was not the message communicated across the table Sunday.

"The owners made it clear that there is no give with respect to any of their proposals," Fehr said. "That unless players are prepared to take -- and this is my phrase, not theirs -- down to the comma, that there's nothing to do.

"We're past the point of give and take. That's what I was told Gary (Bettman) said when I was out of the meeting."

Asked if an unwillingness to budge on its demands presented a non-starter to the union, Fehr said, "I don't know how you make an agreement if that's their position."

Daly, who had an informal lunch meeting with NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr and Los Angeles Kings forward Kevin Westgarth on Saturday to discuss a host of issues, said he realizes contracting issues are vital to players. However, he said the owners also are reluctant to make concessions in this area, particularly because they believe they made a "substantial" give in their latest "make-whole" offer last week.

The "make-whole" provision to honor existing player contracts, as well as the broader issue of hockey-related revenue, weren't discussed Sunday.

"We've always made clear that an agreement on the player contracting issues was as important to us as any other issue," Daly said.

We have proposals on the table. What we heard from the players' association is that they're not interested in our proposals, and that leaves us apart.

-- NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly

When pressed further about whether the league would be willing to negotiate on these issues, Daly said, "We have proposals on the table. What we heard from the players' association is that they're not interested in our proposals, and that leaves us apart."

The league also feels like it has made meaningful concessions on a number of other areas.

According to a source, the NHL has moved toward the NHLPA on: a union guarantee of escrow and discretion to set rate; the existence of a performance bonus cushion in every year of the agreement; increases in minimum player salaries; increases in playoff pool dollars; the elimination of re-entry waivers; modifications to regular waivers; immediate effectiveness of no-trade clauses in contract extensions; and the reworking of the critical date calendar, among others.

Ever since Friday's contentious evening session -- several sources told ESPNNewYork.com that there were some heated exchanges between the sides before talks broke for the day -- dialogue has brought forth little positive news.

Fehr did, however, say he suspects it "won't be too long" before the sides meet again.

When they do, though, the union wants home-field advantage.

The NHLPA, which brought along its entire legal team, as well as Westgarth and fellow players George Parros and Chris Campoli for Sunday's meeting, has requested that talks shift to Toronto.

Fehr said the union has accommodated the league by having talks in New York -- particularly in the wake of Hurricane Sandy -- but would like his staff to have the opportunity to settle in back home.

"We'd like to get some of our staff back to their families," he said.

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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