If the first bargaining session in eight days between the NHL and the players’ association made any headway, neither side tipped its hand.
A large contingent of players got together with league leadership on Monday night and met for less than two hours.
Not a whole lot was accomplished on the road to a new agreement that could get the hockey season going, but at least there was optimism that the sides would get together again — likely as soon as yesterday.
“We talked about various things,” union executive director Donald Fehr said on a chilly Manhattan sidewalk outside the NHL office. “No new proposals were made, they were not expected to be made. We had hoped to engage them in a discussion about the player contracting issues that are so important to the players. At least tonight, they were unwilling to do that.”
The league contends that it is waiting for the players to present a full proposal on all the major issues — including core economics and player contracting, which deals with the entry-level system, arbitration and free agency. After the request was made, the players’ association asked for a break and the meeting adjourned soon after.
“We’ve never heard a full proposal from them,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “They have given us a variation of the same proposal on economics a couple of times and there was no change in that position. They are still suggesting that they are moving in our direction on economics, but until we know exactly what their position is on economics now, we think it’s all tied together and would like to hear it all together. It’s our position that we’ve made a couple comprehensive proposals in a row. We’d like to know where they are on all of the issues. We asked that they put together a comprehensive proposal for us to consider.”
Union representatives, along with 18 players who were in attendance, returned to the players’ association office to have further internal discussions on Monday night.
The sides agreed to get back in touch yesterday morning, and the feeling on both ends was that it likely would lead to another face-to-face meeting.
“It’s certainly a good possibility of it. I would say it’s more likely than not,” Fehr said.
The players wanted to focus on the player-contract issues on Monday night, before returning to specific revenue and economic areas, but the NHL was not interested in that because the league considers everything to be intertwined.
Neither side wants to agree to anything, or make concessions in one single area, without knowing how those will affect other parts of the collective bargaining agreement that still need to be negotiated.
“Our position all along has been on the player contracting issues that they become considerably more important to players as the cap becomes limited,” Fehr said. “We made proposals in a couple of areas in this regard, which moved toward them, but we wanted to talk about the rest of these to see where we were. We indicated to them the last time we met and again today that if we put aside for a moment the effect of the lockout on revenues — we didn’t think we were too far apart on the share — and if that was right we can back into a discussion on the revenues. We wanted to know where we were on the player contracting stuff first, and they were unwilling to do that — at least tonight.”
Fehr said the players’ association would consider the NHL’s request for a full proposal, and try to figure out what the next step will be. No one would say if they thought such an offer would come yesterday.
Whether hockey will return soon, or at all this season, is still to be determined. The lockout entered its 65th day on Monday and has already wiped out 327 games. More cancellations could be coming soon, but the NHL has not said when another such announcement might be coming.
“I think every week is important in the process,” Daly said. “I don’t attach a particular significance to this week over last week or next week. I want to play tomorrow.”
After turning down a suggestion from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to take a two-week break from negotiations, the union requested another meeting with the league. Monday night’s meeting was scheduled on Saturday.
“We could’ve taken a couple of weeks off, I suppose,” Fehr said. “It’s hard for me to see how you make an agreement if you aren’t talking, so you talk. Sometimes it doesn’t lead anywhere, and perhaps very often it doesn’t lead anywhere, but if you aren’t talking it’s 100 percent sure it doesn’t lead anywhere.