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UPDATED: Toxic atmosphere engulfs CBA talks, then subsides

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Chris Phillips

Senators blueliner Chris Phillips says the NHL tried to pull a couple of “dirty tricks” on the players. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

We’re updating this blog post throughout the weekend with major developments, so check back every so often.

We wrote earlier this week that the time has come for a change in the way in which the league handles its labor relations, that it has been too confrontational and combative for too long and no good can come from that. What is — and isn’t — going on in these CBA negotiations demonstrates the bankruptcy of the NHL’s way of doing business with its players.

UPDATE (Sat. 4:45 PM): A cautious, tentative optimism has replaced the angry mood that marked the talks heading into the weekend. It appears that as a result of discussions late Friday and today (Saturday), the league and players are starting to melt both their bargaining gap and their frosty relations. Various source have said that while the outstanding issues — including the salary cap for next season, the maximum length of individual contacts, the player pension and the term of the CBA itself –  have not been resolved, the sides are moving somewhat closer to each other.

Whatever progress has been made — and that is still up in the air — a good deal of the credit has to go to Beckenbaugh, who has diligently kept at it to the point where negotiators have again been meeting face-to-face on Saturday afternoon at the NHLPA’s midtown Manhattan hotel. Beckenbaugh’s mediation is not the only factor, of course.

Another significant impetus certainly has to be the NHLPA’s vote to re-institute the right of their executive committee to disclaim interest. That vote concludes at 6 PM and it is a certainty the membership will grant that right, which has given the players some leverage since the threat of dissolving the union could potentially lead to anti-trust litigation against the owners — and treble damages if a court found in the players’ favor. Whether or not the PA uses this weapon is an open question, and it it very much contingent on how much real progress has been made in the talks.

A third reason for a different mood on Saturday is that both sides do want the season to go forward. The owners want to reopen for business (especially those who have paid huge guaranteed signing bonuses to players but have not had any income to offset them) and players want to play and stop missing paychecks. It has been said by the league that the deadline to get a deal done is the end of next week, although we’ve seen deadlines move before. During the lockout of ’94 it happened often.

The caution comes in because we’ve seem progress before come to a screeching halt numerous times over the last few months. Will more lines be drawn in the sand? Does more brinksmanship await? That’s been the nature of these talks and no one should be surprised if it happens again. As The Sporting News Jesse Spector tweeted, “Are the NHL and NHLPA close to a deal? Absolutely. This was also true Wednesday. And last month.”

And how much real progress is being made is still uncertain. Kevin Paul Dupont of The Boston Globe tweeted, “Agent: ‘Ways to go. League leaking info to up pressure on players.’” Multiple reports have said NHL sources were expressing a bit more optimism than NHLPA sources. Andrew Gross of The Bergen Record tweeted, “Another source counters optimism, saying things were not so upbeat around NHLPA earlier today doesn’t discount use of disclaimer of interest”

There have been reports that the lockout is actually over, but they have been shot down. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period the reports an agreement had been concluded were “not true.”

Here’s the latest video report from TSN.

There were reports the sides might meet face-to-face Friday evening but nothing was set. They didn’t gather on Friday morning or afternoon in the league’s New York offices, but instead engaged in “shuttle mediation.” The players remained in their midtown New York hotel and Federal Mediator Scot Beckenbaugh moved between there and the NHL office in an effort to soothe a fractious environment and resume closing the gaps in the bargaining positions.

UPDATE (Fri. 11:15 PM): The sides never met face to face, but Beckenbaugh continued to shuttle between the NHL office and the NHLPA’s hotel until about 10:30 PM, meaning he was at it for over 12 hours. “Mediation was positive overall today,” tweeted RDS’s Renaud Lavoie. “At the same time, all people I talked too were cautiously optimistic.” For the moment, the temperature seems to have been lowered. The process will resume with the mediator Saturday morning, although eventually the league and players will have to get back together in the same room.

As we pointed out on Thursday, the mistrust level between the players and owners has flared up again, at a crucial moment when work needs to go forward in order to ensure that there will be a season. The latest clash is the result of league negotiators apparently altering the proposal they submitted to the players.  What had been previously agreed upon was altered. In one change, they removed the penalties the league would dole out to clubs that misreported Hockey Related Revenue, the shared pool of money from which player salaries are derived. Hiding HRR should be a serious matter deserving of punishment, but when the PA’s lawyers realized that the language had been changed to eliminate any penalties, a new level of sourness descended on the negotiations. The players had previously detected the league negotiators altering the understanding that the sides had reached on pensions.

Once again, after progress had been made in this long slog to a new CBA, things ground to a halt, which is how these talks have gone for months.

“Negotiations were going well, we chose not to disclaim (as a union) and they turned around and pulled a couple of dirty tricks that upset a lot of us, so now we’re back to where we were in terms of having votes,” Chris Phillips, the Senators’ player representative, told Ken Warren of The Ottawa Citizen on Friday. “They changed the definition that basically there would be no accountability in terms of HRR accounting, so they could basically give us any number they wanted to…so, it’s great that we’re at 50/50 now, but it’s 50/50 of what? That’s just ridiculous. We’re trying to get a deal done and negotiate in good faith and (if there’s) garbage like that, that’s not going to get anything done.

“I just told the guys that this is worse than any part of the negotiating process,” he said. “I don’t understand it at all. The numbers are what they are, but this deal has all been about how much we’re going to give up, not what we’re going to get, and to go to their numbers and then for them to turn around and fudge what the numbers are going to be. It’s just ridiculous, expecting to get a deal done with these people that are trying to pull the wool over your eyes.”

Phillips wasn’t buying the league’s explanation that the omission was merely an honest mistake.

“I don’t know if they were hoping we weren’t going to pick up on it or what, but I don’t know what the right word is…I’m appalled that they would try to get something like that in there under the system we have. I know they’ve said that it was a mistake and (the previous definition of HRR) is back in there, but I don’t know how it’s a mistake when you take something out. I can see it being a mistake if you were supposed to take something out and didn’t. When you go and change the wording, it’s obviously something done purposely.”

Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges told TSN (video), “Tying to slide something in there on us like that is a pretty sneaky move and it doesn’t do anything to benefit the process. It’s hard to negotiate when someone is trying to do something like that.”

This isn’t just a theoretical discussion. As Elliotte Friedman of CBC recalled, the league and players disagreed in 2011 on the amount of revenue reported by two NHL clubs, Washington and Nashville.

One hopes with their venting done, the players have shifted their focus to whatever it takes to get a fair and equitable deal. But it seems they will have the weapon of the disclaimer of interest threat once again before the weekend concludes. The PA continued their 48-hour vote to reinstate the right of the union’s executive to disclaim interest, a process that will conclude on Saturday afternoon. Don Fehr could have pulled the trigger on the disclaimer Wednesday but did not.

“It wasn’t long before word filtered out of the players’ ranks that the tone of (Gary) Bettman and his negotiating team changed once the threat of a disclaimer was gone,” wrote David Shoalts in The Globe and Mail. “Intransigence was back. The talks quickly broke down early Thursday morning.”

Now, there is concern that the union will pursue the matter and what that means in the long run is anyone’s guess. In the short term, the union sees it as a tool to get the league more cooperative at the bargaining table. Josh Gorges reflected both the distrust and was somewhat perplexed when he explained to Sportsnet on Friday why the union once again seeks the disclaimer.

“At the start of this whole process,” he said, “it was all about money. They said they weren’t making enough money, the players were making too much, so we came to 50-50. That’s what they wanted; they got it. They’ve had it for about a month now. So what’s this about? It can’t be about money. Is it about power? Is about them not wanting to show that they can give into us, that they can give us a little bit? Even if they agreed to all the things we’re asking for in this last bit of negotiations, it’s still a concession by the players. It’s not a concession by the owners. So I don’t understand what they want from us and how we’re supposed to move any more toward getting a deal done if they don’t want to give a little.”

In truth, the owners have moved on some issues. For example, they had sought a contract variance of only five percent per year to prevent backdiving deals that circumvent the CBA. The players wanted 25 percent and now it seems they have agreed on 20 percent. They are still apart, however, on other key matters — the salary cap and the length of individual player contracts among them.

Mediation on Friday may have helped soften the stances. We’ll see, as we head into another action packed weekend of negotiations.

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  • Published On Jan 04, 2013
  • 17 comments
    Tony-O-35
    Tony-O-35

    Lockout is over. SI is the last website to acknowledge this. Geez, even Fox had it and it's hard to even find their NHL section. Cmon guys...

    RV
    RV

    Hockey fan for 25 years... can finally say I really do not care anymore. Overrated, over paid, season over. Screw the fans and maybe we could start a fan boycott and show these morons where their real paycheck comes from

    Caleb19
    Caleb19

    Is there any chance of a group of decent players leaving the NHL permanently to play in the KHL never to return to the NHL? The days of the NHL being the only league worth watching/playing in are over, and I hope this lockout and what looks like canceled season will lead to more talent staying overseas and more coverage of college, KHL, ECHL, AHL, etc, games. I'm done with the owners and the players.. 

    MarkSweetipo
    MarkSweetipo

    With the predicted climate change in the next century I wonder if hockey will even be with us in a century.  Sure we have indoor rinks but how many NHL players spent the majority of their youth playing indoors?  Hockey is like Nascar a regional sport whose best days are probably behind it.

    MarkDDD
    MarkDDD

    Hey Stu,  I get the hard nose negotiations by both sides, but you have to admit, Bettman actions appear to be abit sleazy.  There is alot of money at stake but this is well beyond the absurd now. Fans should look to another sport or hope a new league develops. 

    Big1
    Big1

    I knew this was going to get contentious the moment the NHLPA hired Donald Fehr.  They hired him specifically because he was able to beat the MLB ownership.  This problem is solely on the heads of the players.  Oh, the league initiated the job action, but don't kid yourself into believing that if negotiations got bad, the union would have walked out if they had gotten the chance.

     

    I have no problem with the NHL asking for a revenue level that allows  teams to break even or better.  The players will make money no matter what, but most of the teams were losing money under the old system (forbes estimated only 12 out of 30 were making money last season), why should they be forced to lose money just so the players can get a little bit more... Heck, it's not even the average player that is the problem.. only the top 10% of the stars... they're greedy.

     

    The moment the union hired Fehr, I knew we would not see hockey for the '12-'13 season.  They players failed in their history lesson... The owners in the NHL can stomach killing a season in the effort to keep the doors open long term... Maybe what the league should do is give the players exactly what the players want... and tell the owners that are not making money... Go through Chapter 7 bankruptcy and dissolve... the league can't buy you out... I wonder how the NHLPA would like that losing countless jobs just so they can get what they want?  And since it is through the bankruptcy courts, the CBA is rendered moot.

     

    The players are just trying to do what the Unions did for Hostess.... and we know what happened there...

    BillJones
    BillJones

    I am 48,  I grew up just north of NYC,  I played on frozen ponds and rented rinks at 11 pm and 5 am.  I had goalie pads stuffed with balled up newspaper.  These guys have to realize no one cares anymore.  I went to Maryland to play lacrosse.  They loved the sport and still do.  Hockey and lacrosse has made it to Texas but only if you win.  The top players in hockey should be looking at making 250K max.  It's now just a job.

     

    PalmDos
    PalmDos

    Question:

    If there is no 2012-2013 season (and lets face it, there is no way there can be a 12-13 season as 2012 is already over) how will the deaft be handled?  Will they do an aggregate of the last 5 years and seed draft picks that way?  If the CBJ are awarded the #1 spo,t can it still go to Edmonton?

    MattJanosko
    MattJanosko

     @RV I can only partially agree with you. While I've been a fan since the early 80's (around '81 or '82)....I've also gotten to the point in this most ridiculous labor dispute in not only sports history but also in just general industry history has made me no longer care if they play or don't. However, I will still never say they are overrated (how can anyone overrate world class talent...the best talent in one occupation the world can offer?) nor will I say they are overpaid considering how much money they generate when they do play....remember, nobody pays to see owners own.

    Not a Kicker
    Not a Kicker

     @Big1 Wow big, I see you drank the Owners kool-aid, no wonder billionaire owners can get dumb tax payers to pay for their stadiums. A lot of teams that forbes says are  losing money are in fact doing fine in the big picture. the San Jose Sharks for instance loses money since they pay arena rent to “Sharks Sports and Entertainment” which is owned by the same people. Both sides are greedy, both sides will screw the fans, and people who blindly take one side only encourages this stupid take it or leave it approach.

    MattJanosko
    MattJanosko

     @BillJones And why just $250,000 for world class talent such as Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, etc? Especially considering the amount of money generated by each NHL game and season (when played, of course). Why that little that players such as those I mentioned (and countless others) especially when one considers that they've spent their entire life from a very young age honing those talents to be as good as they are? What do you think owners "deserve" to make? What does a guy like Jeremy Jacobs "deserve' to make considering he isn't self-made and only inherited his money from his father because he was just lucky enough to be born to a self-made rich father? Crosby, Ovehckin, Malkin and all the other players of the NHL are all self-made....how many owners can you say that's true of? Not many....far less than half.

    Stu Hackel
    Stu Hackel moderator

     @PalmDos There can be no draft until there's a CBA for one thing. Players cannot be drafted in the absence of an agreement. That's why in 2005, the draft in Ottawa took place in August, after the CBA was ratified. Back then, the league conducted a lottery (and the Penguins won and picked Crosby first, as you probably recall). But there have been rumblings that the current lottery system only allows a few teams a chance at the first pick and that the system may be revamped to allow every non playoff team at least a minimal chance of getting the first pick, not the way it has been until now where the winner can only move up a certain number of spots and most non-playoff teams have no shot at the top pick. That said, no decision has been made (or made public) on how a draft would be handled once the CBA is done. I guess, we'll have to wait.

    RV
    RV

     @MattJanosko  @RV world class so what. player around the world can match the level of talent the NHL has it is based on marketing a player or brand. If you feel like your $100 seat warrants that experience good for you. my bottom line is they have disregarded where the money comes from and they need a reminder. few fans have the courage to blow off the season just to show them. I will not see the RedWings play this year just on principle. Really no great loss to them I am sure but, I feel better about it.

    They want my money they have to earn it back!

    Big1
    Big1

     @Not a Kicker FACT: Name the organization that had a lockout/strike that did not have a Union?  That's right, there has been none... why?  Because there is not need when there is no union.

     

    And be careful there friend... I know about the accounting that can happen, but I also know that most people are drinking the players kool-aid... that they are so deprived... ONLY making 1.5 million dollars/year.  Most people won't make that much in 20 years combined.(probably both of us).. we have seen 4 teams in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the last 15-20 years (3 since the last CBA).... That aught to tell you something...

     

    I personally believe sports leagues unions have stepped way over the line since the mid 80's... I don't believe they are needed any longer.  All they do is hurt the fans with the players greed.

     

    Also NOTE: Since Donald Fehr has left the MLBPA, no fighting between the MLBPA and ownership.... coincidence?  Don't think so.