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The key negotiators started another round of important talks Wednesday afternoon, with both sides expecting that they would centre on the “make whole” provision that is viewed as the most important hurdle to cross before reaching a new deal.
The first sign that true back-and-forth negotiations were finally underway came from how little was said after the meeting wrapped up at 10:15 p.m. The NHLPA declined to comment while deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued a short statement saying that he would “not characterize the substance or detail of the discussions until their conclusion.”
There appears to be agreement that the players’ share in revenue will drop to 50 per cent at some point during the next CBA. The union wants assurances that all of the contracts agreed to under the previous system, which saw players receive 57 per cent, will be made whole, meaning they’re paid out in full.
After agreeing to take less revenue, the NHLPA doesn’t believe it should have to offer concessions on contract issues. The league has proposed changes to unrestricted free agency, entry-level deals, arbitration and contract lengths.
While refusing to make any predictions about how soon a deal might be struck, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr struck an optimistic tone on Tuesday afternoon prior to negotiations resuming. It was the first time the sides had held a formal bargaining session since Oct. 18 and he indicated it could be a start to the push for a new deal.
“The players’ view has always been that we ought to keep negotiating until we find a way to get an agreement,” said Fehr. “You sort of stay at it day by day, so it’s very good to be getting back to the table. We hope that this time it produces more progress than we’ve seen in the past and we can figure out a way to make an agreement and to get the game back on the ice as soon as possible.”
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby attended that meeting and ended up making a “last minute” decision to fly into New York for this one. He was among 13 players who joined the NHLPA contingent. A handful of team owners took part as well.
The best-case scenario would seem to be a shortened schedule beginning on Dec. 1, although there remains time to drop the puck before then if a deal is reached soon. It’s expected teams will hold seven-day training camps that begin once a new CBA is ratified.
Tuesday’s negotiation session came just days after Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr held an informal meeting that spanned several hours at another secret location. It was viewed as a “productive” gathering, according to Donald Fehr, and helped set the table for formal talks to resume this week.
The biggest issue the sides have to bridge a gap on is the mechanism that would see all existing contracts honoured in full, even after the players’ overall share in revenue is reduced to 50 per cent from its current position of 57 per cent. A “make whole” provision in the NHL’s Oct. 16 offer attempted to do that, but the NHLPA didn’t like that deferred payments would count against the earning potential of future players.
The league has since indicated a willingness to see owners assume more of the liability. The 52-day NHL lockout has already prompted the league to cancel 327 regular-season games, including the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.