Slow-moving NHL labor discussions to resume this week

Slow-moving NHL labor discussions to resume this week
October 8, 2012, 3:41 pm
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The good news is that the NHL is going to start up talks again this week. The bad news is that both the NHL and NHLPA dont appear to be in any major hurry.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, NHL Exec Director Donald Fehr and lead counsel Steve Fehr will firm up plans to meet this week with early indications the meeting will take place on Wednesday in New York City, four days after the regular season was supposed to begin.

The delay might be partially caused by the Monday observation of Thanksgiving in Canada, but the inability of the two sides to get together until midweek is a little frustrating for hockey fans that want something done now. This weeks round of meetings were set up by a surprise meeting at the NHLPA offices in Toronto last week that emboldened some to think progress was being made.

It didnt appear that any new ground was broken during last weeks CBA discussion, and some of the same issues remain.

Theres a clear dislike for the NHL litigators among the NHL players that has begun to affect the tenor of the negotiations between the two sides, and thats degenerated into a very real lack of trust given the leagues long history of locking out its players.

The NHLPA has submitted progressive, thoughtful proposals that have the long term health of the league in mind, and taper the Hockey Related Revenue share down to 5050 over the length of the deal. But the NHL hasnt responded favorably to those deals, and continues to push for salary rollbacksescrow that would drop the players share under last years 1.87 billion piece of the revenue pie.

Dropping the players share below last years total is something thats a non-starter for the NHLPA, and that might be whats stalled talks over the last few weeks over core economic issues. Theres a very real aggravation among the players that theyre being asked to take a 10-20 percent pay cut on their salaries when the NHL is generating revenue at record-breaking totals.

Meanwhile, on the NHL side, several sources have indicated to CSNNE.com that theres plenty of wariness about Fehrs leadership of the players union. The Board of Governors are very hesitant to adopt anything significant that the NHLPA leader proposes for fear it will eventually turn out to be a deal thats more advantageous to the players. They know his reputation as a brilliant, tough negotiator from his days in the Major League Baseball Players Association, and many NHL owners are afraid to allow him too much slack during the negotiations.

Theres also a wide-held belief among the league owners and officers that Fehr got involved in the NHLPA for kicks, and that he is the only person that has nothing to lose if the NHL loses an entire season to a work stoppage. The belief here is that Fehr has already made his reputation leading the baseball players union, and nothing that happens during this labor negotiation will significantly help or hurt his legacy. That feeling isnt unanimous among the NHL owners, of course, as the idea of locking the players out doesnt appear to be the favored course of action for each of the 30 members of the Board of Governors despite a much-hyped "unanimous vote" to institute the work stoppage.

One of the keys to real hardball negotiations is to make the other side feel a little pain, and that discomfort will prompt more willingness to compromise from each sides stance. The pain and agony will start this week with hockey revenue and NHL pay checks gathering cobwebs while the best hockey league in the world keeps its doors shuttered rather than opening the regular season on Oct. 11.

There is no hope of an NHL return this week during Canadian Thanksgiving, but perhaps there is still a shred of hope that things will be looking better by the time of U.S. Thanksgiving more than a month from now. That should give both sides ample time to find some middle ground if they continue inching along at the current snails pace of CBA negotiations.