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Mistrust shows up to bedevil CBA talks

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By Stu Hackel

Another day, another series of talks for the NHL and NHLPA : Day 110, to be precise, and while there have been some positive developments this week, there is still no certainty that an agreement is imminent or even assured in time to preserve a 48-game season. The supposed deadline for that is Jan. 11, with the schedule beginning on Jan. 19. Neither the deadline nor the puck drop can be guaranteed.

That’s because some outstanding issues — like the salary cap, pensions, and contract limits — remain and the sides are not close to agreeing on how to resolve them. There are new suspicions on both sides as well that have kept the anxiety level high. Both Gary Bettman and Don Fehr said after Wednesday’s marathon talks, which extended into early Thursday, that some progress had been made, but there were still some hard miles to travel.

UPDATE: As of Friday morning, Day 111, the two sides were conferring with a mediator and no formal bargaining session had been set.

UPDATE: As the clock ticked, there were no large-group negotiations Thursday afternoon or evening, only a small group session on the critical pension issue. The absence of talks on the core economic issues dividing the sides got ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun righteously agitated, writing, “The most embarrassing work stoppage in the history of pro sports has found a way once again to show it might also be the most irrational ever of its kind.” His piece is worth reading. And in The Winnipeg Free Press, Gary Lawless quoted a “veteran member of the NHL’s board of governors” saying the season’s cancellation is only a week away. Yahoo Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski, for one, was not surprised by the story and had some salient observations on it which you can read here. Meetings are scheduled to resume Friday morning.

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  • Published On Jan 03, 2013
  • NHL in dire need of labor relations fix

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    Gary Bettman

    Gary Bettman says he’s pleased to with an “ongoing process” that he and the team owners have often torpedoed. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    For the third straight day, representatives of the NHL owners and players reconvened on Wednesday as the NHLPA responded to the league’s most recent proposal, which it received on Tuesday. With the January 11 deal deadline for a reduced 48-game season fast approaching, real, honest, serious negotiations seem to be taking place at last. More are scheduled for Thursday.

    UPDATE: The NHLPA made a counter-proposal to the NHL’s Tuesday offer, itself a counter-proposal and the sides met again Wednesday evening to discuss it. There appears to be general agreement on the length of the CBA at 10 years, with an opt-out at eight, a concession by the players, but there are reports the players want some additional stipulations included. There are also reports that the players may agree to the six-year limit on contracts, seven for players re-signing with their own clubs — another concession by the union — but in return they still want pay to vary by 10 percent annually rather than the NHL’s five percent offer. 

    None of these reports are confirmed and the lack of leaks on both sides would seem to suggest that they are seriously trying to bridge the gap in order to start a 48-game season before Jan. 19. Other important items remain unsettled and one is the salary cap, which the owners want reduced to $60 million annually. The players have reportedly not agreed (and we discussed that provision earlier this week). Another is the size of escrow. Additionally, there are new concerns about the players’ pension plan, which had supposedly been agreed to earlier in the talks but may have been changed in the owners’ proposal. Pat Leonard of The New York Daily News has more on the pension issue here. There is some feeling among the players that ownership has reneged on this item.

    There have been very few details on this round of talks, which is seen as a good sign because leaks usually mean discord. The players still had the option until midnight of disclaiming interest in the NHLPA through the union’s executive committee, the quick route to decertification that could throw the process into chaos, if they believe the owners are not negotiating in good faith. On Twitter, ESPN/ TSN’s Pierre LeBrun quoted a player saying, “How they respond to our latest proposal will determine if we disclaim or not.” Even though that option expires at the end of the day, the players could renew that initiative sometime in the future. More on this latest round of talks here from TSN.ca.

    UPDATE: The union decided to hold off on the disclaimer. More on that fromTSN.ca.

    If you are wondering why a sudden wave of sincerity has washed over the process, which is now beginning its sixth month, you are not alone. These latest talks — which have resulted in three proposals being swapped in six days (UPDATE: now four in seven days) — could and should have taken place months ago had there not been another agenda floating around besides that of getting a fair and equitable agreement.

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  • Published On Jan 02, 2013
  • 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
  • Two Minutes For Booking: The secrets of the C; more hockey reading

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    Scott Stevens

    Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens knew full well the motivational value of a big hit — in games or practice — while serving as the captain of the Devils’ three Stanley Cup championship teams. (Photo by Lou Capozzola/SI)

    By Stu Hackel

    Unless the owners and players restart negotiations, the closest that NHL fans may come to their favorite sport this season is by reading a book. If you are still stumped about what to give the fans in your life this holiday season, you might select one of these, or from our earlier list of gift books.

    Wearing The C: Hockey’s Highest Honor, by Ross Bernstein. Triumph Books, 272 pages. $22.95 — The question of leadership among players has always been an essential part of hockey, often discussed and cited as a key reason why teams win or lose. “Putting a C on natural leaders,” Scotty Bowman says in this book, “is what sets average teams apart from the great ones.” There are different reasons why a player is selected to be a captain — some inspire and instill confidence with words in the dressing room and on the bench, some lead by example on the ice, some get the C on their sweater by virtue of their playing talent, some by virtue of their physical play — and this book explores all of that and more. Here’s SI.com’s photo gallery of its top 10 NHL captains of all time.

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  • Published On Dec 19, 2012
  • NHL’s CBA dispute enters legal swamp

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    NNHL players and Donald Fehr

    With a players’ vote likely to dissolve their union, the NHL is changing some of its tune about NHLPA boss Don Fehr. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    And now things have changed. The fate of the season and perhaps the entire NHL could be decided by lawyers filing into courtrooms, not by negotiators in conference rooms,. And, because the existing case law on what will be argued is so uncertain, the outcome is anyone’s guess.

    Somewhere in the past few months, I wrote something like, “This is no way to run a league unless you want to run it into the ground.” That has never been more true.

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  • Published On Dec 17, 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
  • Fragile talks, optimistic reports and a tale of two sweaters

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    Gary Bettman at CBA press conference

    Once again, CBA negotiators thought it best to try to shake the media hounds off their trail. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    NHL and NHLPA negotiators went at it again as the lockout hit 88 fun-filled days. Federal mediators have returned to the process as well, and that can’t be a bad thing as long as both parties really want to reach a deal. If one does not, or insists there is no room for compromise, all the king’s men won’t be able to put a CBA together.

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  • Published On Dec 12, 2012
  • NHL season hostage to power struggles

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    Billy Daly and Gary Bettman

    Possible fallout from last week’s collapse in the CBA talks is that if they resume, Commissioner Gary Bettman and his deputy, Bill Daly, will go back to doing the bidding of the league’s most hardline team owners (Mary Altaffer/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    In the early afternoon on Monday, Lockout Day 86, Gary Bettman opened his jar of vanishing cream, rubbed it on the schedule pages in The NHL Guide and Record Book and made another chunk of games disappear.

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  • Published On Dec 10, 2012
  • What next after CBA talks disaster?

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    Gary Bettman and Bill Daly

    Gary Bettman may be too focused for the NHL’s own good on ridding the league of players union boss Donald Fehr. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    They won’t be talking this weekend, but in the aftermath of the CBA train wreck this past week, the NHL and the NHLPA now have to go about the business of picking up debris and trying to reassemble it into, well, something.

    Right now, this mess isn’t going anywhere and with all the ill will, it’s anybody’s guess at the moment what that something will be, what shape it might eventually take. Red Light habitually shies away from making predictions — a good practice, especially when it comes to these talks, as the most recent events remind us.

    Taking into account the herky-jerky character the negotiations have assumed, it’s best to keep our expectations low.  That said, here are a few possible plot lines for what might lie ahead.

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  • Published On Dec 07, 2012
  • NHL’s CBA rollercoaster rolls on

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    Gary Bettman

    Commissioner Gary Bettman was furious and on the attack after talks collapsed again. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    By Stu Hackel

    It was the most incredible day yet in the NHL lockout, filled with great theater and great passion. Not much else about it could be called great, however, and the bottom line is that the NHL’s collective bargaining negotiations, which only a day or two earlier looked as if they were on track have once again been thrown into disarray.

    Talks are once again suspended. The schedule is once again about to be reduced. The possibility that the season will be lost is once again a growing concern and while it’s not yet on life-support — far from it — the only doctors in the house are spin doctors and they’re not curing anything.

    What’s the result? More fan anger and alienation, more disillusioned licensees and sponsors, and another slash to the wrists by myopic, suicidal businessmen, not to mention a lot of heat from the media.

    Here are some of Day 82′s absurd details: Negotiations minus Don Fehr and Gary Bettman and with a quartet of “moderate” owners joining the talks had been proceeding rather well and some good progress had been made, but the spirit of cooperation somehow evaporated (and Jesse Spector of The Sporting News traces that to the owners’ opposition to the players wanting Don Fehr back in the room, something the NHL apparently could not tolerate).

    Each side blames the other  – which we’ve all come to expect by now — the players accusing the owners of refusing to budge on some aspects of the deal and the owners making a similar charge against the union. This round of denunciation began when the NHLPA presented a new proposal to a reduced NHL delegation of Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and outside counsel Bob Batterman that asked for compromise on supposedly non-negotiable issues and it probably didn’t sit well with that duo, who left to bring the information back to league headquarters.

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  • Published On Dec 07, 2012


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