By Stu Hackel
With the entire NHL preseason schedule now officially cancelled, the owners and players returned to the bargaining table on Friday in New York City, their first face-to-face negotiations since Sept. 12, which was three days before the CBA expired and the lockout began. They won’t be talking about the core economic issues, at least at first. Those sticking points have prevented collective bargaining discussions from proceeding. The agenda for now is to discuss items like travel, pension, player health and safety measures, and supplemental discipline. Those talks have actually been productive. The league had halted them, however, as the gulf between the sides on the economic issues didn’t appreciably narrow, but wisely moved earlier this week to restart those “secondary” talks, the hope being that perhaps any momentum generated by them — and from just getting the parties back together in a room — could influence movement in the other main area. We’ll see.
Informal and back-channel discussions have reportedly been going on during the lull in formal talks and the good news is that what was originally thought to be a one-day formal discussion was expanded so that the sides have reserved negotiating space in New York through Sunday. “I think the fact that they’re meeting is a good thing,” Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said Thursday at an NHL players charity game in Châteauguay, Quebec. “I’m not quite sure if anything will come of it, but I think it’s a good start. At least they’re speaking and they’re willing to try to get a resolution to this.”
We’ll be following the events on this blog as they develop all weekend, so check back through the weekend as we update what transpires.
SUN. 5 PM [UPDATED, with video] – After five hours of discussion and some progress reported on health and safety issues, drug testing and some legal matters, the CBA talks were halted and won’t pick up on Monday, although they have not broken off. Steve Fehr said the players were willing to meet Monday but Bill Daly told him the league preferred to have internal discussions to review some of the subjects that came up over the past three days. Daly stressed that the hiatus didn’t signal anything more than the need to do some homework and prepare documents for further negotiations.