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Big obstacles remain as talks resume

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Gary Bettman

Instead of filling the seats in The Big House for the Winter Classic, Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners have stuck to their negotiating guns, which usually shoot down any NHLPA counter-proposals in a matter of minutes.
(Paul Sancya/AP)

By Stu Hackel

Weary and wary, the hockey world awaits as negotiators for the NHL and the NHLPA resume CBA talks for the first time since Dec. 13.

UPDATE: The sides adjourned for Monday after meeting a few hours with little substantial comment from either side. The league reviewed the union’s counter-proposal and they will get back together on Tuesday. You can watch Don Fehr’s remarks here and Gary Bettman’s here. TSN’s Aaron Ward and Darren Dreger had a bit more — but not much — here.

What will the owners’ latest offer mean to this paralyzed professional league, which has locked out its players for 107 days, inflicted hardship on those whose incomes are dependent on games being played, and incurred justifiable ridicule and scorn from all corners?

You expect some sports commentators who never have anything good to say about hockey to jump all over this fiasco, but when Devils President Lou Lamoriello says he’s “embarrassed” by this predicament, he echoes the sentiments of those who love the game as well.

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  • Published On Dec 31, 2012
  • A ‘Yes’ with a season in the balance

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    Bill Daly

    Really, what else could Bill Daly say? No one knows if a deal will be struck in time. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Will there be an NHL season?

    The league cancelled its schedule through Jan. 14 on Thursday so the fact that this question still torments us after 96 days of the lockout is hardly surprising. But the hockey community did raise its collective bruised eyebrow on Wednesday when CBC’s Elliotte Friedman asked that very question of NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly — and only wanted to hear a “yes” or a “no” answer. No qualifications of equivocating allowed.

    “Do we have a season?”

    You can listen to Daly’s response here or continue reading for it.

    “Yes.”

    It was the most encouraging word we’ve heard in a couple of weeks, since Daly stood shoulder to shoulder with the NHLPA’s special counsel Steve Fehr (video) and talked about how real progress was being made for the first time in the marathon collective bargaining meetings that were held earlier this month.

    NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr reacted quite positively when he was informed of Daly’s answer (at around 1:45 of the video below).

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  • Published On Dec 20, 2012
  • Lockout grows uglier by the day

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    Bill Daly and Steve Fehr

    Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr have spent quite a bit of time together, but neither side seems willing to budge again though the NHL is clearly in real jeopardy. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Another page is ripped off the calendar and we find ourselves at Day 90 of the NHL lockout. Chances are very good that this foolish interlude will hit triple digits, further damaging a league that was — long, long ago it seems — finally starting to gain momentum in the crowded sports landscape, and a greater degree of acceptance and interest among casual fans.

    The biggest shots fired yet in this civil war — the possibility of the NHLPA filing a disclaimer of interest to disband, a legal move that could permit a judge to rule on the legality of the lockout and subsequently expose the NHL to anti-trust litigation — is now on the agenda with news Friday afternoon from Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com that the union’s executive board unanimously approved a measure to authorize a vote among the players on the maneuver.

    In response, the NHL filed a class action complaint in Federal Court in New York seeking a Declaration confirming the ongoing legality of the lockout. The league also filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that by threatening to “disclaim interest,” the NHLPA has engaged in an unlawful subversion of the collective bargaining process and conduct that constitutes bad faith bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act.

    Ladies and gentlemen, start your lawyers.

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  • Published On Dec 14, 2012
  • UPDATED: Doomsday turns to progress in player-owner talks

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    Sidney Crosby

    Ryan Miller (center, rear) and Sidney Crosby were widely expected to be included in the players’ delegation Tuesday. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    With some second-guessing floating around and one strange report claiming the lockout was nearly over,  the NHL owners and players met Tuesday in New York City — minus their lead negotiators — for what some believed was a last ditch effort to revive the CBA talks and save the season. On Wednesday, the Board of Governors convened and it was expected that it would set a doomsday timetable, establishing a date after which even an abbreviated schedule would not be played.

    But, for the first time in these negotiations, Tuesday’s session yielded some signs of cautious optimism.

    Following marathon talks on Tuesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman indicated on Wednesday after the BOG meeting that he and the NHL owners were  “pleased with the process” but declined to say anything further.

    “We’re going to continue to talk up until we get a deal,” Maple Leafs governor Larry Tanenbaum, one of the six owners meeting with the group of players, told Nick Cotsonika of Yahoo Sports. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

    In a very brief joint press conference following the seven-and-a-half hours of meetings on Tuesday (video), NHLPA general counsel Steve Fehr said, “I thought we had a constructive day. We had a good dialogue. In some ways I’d say it might be the best day we’ve had…There’s still a lot of work to do and a lot to be done, but we will be back at in tomorrow (Wednesday) morning.”

    And NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly added, “I think everybody is working hard. I think everybody wants to get a deal done, so I think that’s encouraging. We look forward to making more progress tomorrow.”

    We haven’t heard anything remotely like that since talks began in July.

    The same group of owners and players were to reconvene Wednesday prior to the 11 AM Board meeting but postponed and now expect to continue some time after that meeting. How the Board as a whole will react to these talks, that are being conducted without either Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr, is an open question. The Chairman of the Board, Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs, was in the talks, but reports say others were responsible for what progress was made.

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  • Published On Dec 04, 2012
  • NHL’s slow motion trainwreck

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    Tyler Kennedy

    Wake me when it’s over: CBA talks are turning out to be tortuous going with little movement. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    If the CBA negotiations are a dance, let’s all do The Grind.

    The long grind of the lockout, now in its third month, is replacing the long grind of the NHL regular season and there’s no end in sight. Oh, it could end if the NHLPA capitulated entirely or the owners offered inducements so the deal provided the players with at least some upside compared to the previous CBA. Neither seems to be happening at the moment and, unless additional compromises ensue, we’ll be left to witness this evolving train wreck in slow motion, day by day.

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  • Published On Nov 20, 2012
  • Is Gary Bettman patching cracks in the NHL owners’ ranks?

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    Ed Snider and Gary Bettman

    Ed Snider (left) may have gotten himself into Commissioner Gary Bettman’s Le Chateau Bow-Wow after a story appeared over the weekend claiming that the powerful Flyers owner may be urging his peers to budge in CBA negotiations. (Alex Brandon/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    Representatives of the owners and players are resuming their CBA talks after a 10-day lull during which nothing but bad feelings came to the surface. Take Red Wings defenseman Ian White’s poor judgment in calling Commissioner Gary Bettman “an idiot” while a reporter’s microphone was in front of him: The commissioner may be lots of things, but idiot isn’t one of them.

    Few people, if any, feel badly for Bettman, although he’s the guy who gets most the heat, most recently over the weekend in the online magazine Grantland, where Bill Simmons artfully savaged the commissioner, even imagining him squirming during impeachment hearings (“‘So you allowed John Spano to buy the Islanders without any money because … why?’ That would be the best courtroom TV since the O.J. trial.”). Despite a few inaccuracies, it’s currently Grantland’s most-read story, maybe because it also includes his Week 12 NFL picks.

    By comparison, the owners whose dirty work Bettman does receive very little abuse. “Question to you is would you do what he does for 8 million dollars a year?” Coyotes winger Paul Bissonette wondered on Twitter earlier today. Yes, it’s a hell of a way to make a living, but it’s a very good living.

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  • Published On Nov 19, 2012
  • Road to CBA still long despite new hope

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    Manhattan skyline Hurricane Sandy

    A sobering reality: NHL CBA negotiations will resume in New York City, an area that was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy and rightly has more important things than hockey to worry about. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    Should we be excited that the NHL and NHLPA are resuming negotiations again this week? In one sense, yes, of course, because there can be no end to this ill-conceived and ill-considered lockout without talks.

    But let’s temper our excitement about the owners and players finally getting back together after two weeks of hard feelings and little communication. Until we get some sustained momentum from the CBA discussions, it’s foolish to think that we have anything but a long road ahead of us.  During the past two months, we’ve periodically had our hopes raised that good faith and reason were about to prevail and that hasn’t happened yet.

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  • Published On Nov 05, 2012
  • Does the NHL really want a CBA deal?

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    Donald Fehr

    Some people are speculating that the NHL owners really think of NHLPA leader Donald Fehr as a kind of intractable bogeyman who must be worked around, not with, if a new CBA is to be reached. (Photo by Sitthixay Ditthavong/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    If the NHL owners hoped to get the NHLPA to reconsider their most recent offer, they may have just — by blunder or intention — pushed the players further away.

    Tuesday, on the eve of the NHL’s deadline to reach a deal to save a full 82-game season, the owners rejected an invitation from the players to resume negotiations. “That is unfortunate as it is hard to make progress without talking,” said NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr.

    And last week, without telling the NHLPA that it was doing so, the league permitted club executives to speak to players about their offer presented a week ago Tuesday.

    A gag order against commenting publicly about the lockout and the CBA negotiations has been in place for all NHL personnel. Additionally, players and their teams are normally prohibited from having any contact during a lockout, which is why players cannot use their teams’ facilities and interact with coaches. It’s a precaution the league takes because certain discussions of the issues in the dispute can be illegal, so it’s best to avoid contact completely.

    But for a 48-hour period last week, the NHL allowed the clubs to communicate with the players, within certain guidelines that did not violate the law. (Yahoo! Sports obtained the league office’s memo to the teams and part of it has been published on the Puck Daddy blog.) The stated idea was to answer questions that the players might have about the offer and permit team execs to express their views and opinions of it.

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  • Published On Oct 23, 2012
  • Owners, players bleeding green as NHL lockout drags on

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    Dark days plus dark arenas equal hefty financial losses for everyone in the NHL. (Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    The meter keeps running on monetary losses as the NHL lockout enters its second month and chews into the regular season. With both sides at an impasse on how to divide the revenue of this thriving business — or at least it was a thriving business; perhaps soon we’ll be writing “once-thriving business” — there’s nothing coming in from the games not being played and players’ salaries aren’t being paid.

    The players’ first paychecks were to be issued on Monday, Oct. 15 although they’ll be getting money from the escrow fund before the month is over. Players who got big signing bonuses this summer are doing just fine financially. The 125 or so who are playing in Europe are getting something as well, if only to cover their insurance costs, but at least they’re working and glad about it. The 70 or so in the AHL are getting paid, too. As for the rest, probably about 500 guys, here’s hoping that they’ve socked away some money.

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  • Published On Oct 15, 2012
  • NHL Lockout Notebook: Day 4

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    Florida Panthers mascot Stanley C. Panther was laid off due to the NHL lockout

    Caught in the crossfire: The ongoing collective bargaining dispute between the NHL and NHLPA is not only angering fans, it’s starting to hurt everyone from players, officials to league and team staff to mascots. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    Now in Day 4, the lockout of NHL players by team owners has produced news on a number of fronts. Here’s a roundup of some noteworthy items:

    The biggest news occurred late Wednesday afternoon when the league announced the first cancellation of games, specifically the 60 preseason matches scheduled for September plus the annual small town “Hockeyville” game that this year celebrates Stirling-Rawdon, Ontario, to be played on Oct. 3 in Belleville, Ont., between the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets.

    As was the case in the lockout of 2004-05, we can expect the slow torture of regular cancellation announcements as long as there is no new CBA.

    The two sides did speak briefly on Tuesday and it was thought they would have more informal discussions on Wednesday to see if they can restart formal talks. Nothing has been reported confirming any discussions did take place.

    There is a sense in some quarters (as expressed by TSN and ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, The Ottawa Sun‘s Chris Stevenson and TSN’s Bob McKenzie over Montreal’s TSN 690 radio) that we’re at a crucial moment, and a small window exists during the next week or two for the parties to start making progress. If regular season games start getting canceled, we should get set for a long stalemate. “If nothing happens,” McKenzie said Wednesday morning, “we’re going back to the dynamic of 2004″ when there was virtually no discussion between the sides for three months after the league declared the lockout.

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  • Published On Sep 19, 2012


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