April 19th, 2014

NHL, NHLPA have “best day” of negotiations

by RyanPorth

Six owners and 18 players met all day Tuesday in an effort to gain traction in the NHL labor talks, and it appears it was a successful meeting.  In a brief media availability late Tuesday, both the NHL and NHLPA said progress was made. 

“It may have been the best day we’ve had so far,” said Steve Fehr, special counsel to the NHLPA.  “I don’t want to paint too rosy of a picture, however. A lot of work remains to be done and we’ll be back at it [Wednesday].” 

Negotiations will continue Wednesday with the same group of owners and players on each side.  NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who did not take part in Tuesday’s talks, is scheduled to address the media following Wednesday’s board of governors meeting. 

“I think everybody wants to get a deal done, so I think that’s encouraging,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Tuesday. “We look forward to making more progress.” 

Neither Fehr nor Daly took questions in the media availability, so there weren’t many details given.  Media in attendance noted a difference in body language and demeanor from both sides, which was highlighted by Fehr and Daly standing side-by-side in front of the cameras. 

However, things can change quickly in these negotiations.  The fact Bettman and Donald Fehr did not participate Tuesday is an important reminder, as optimism has been dashed multiple times in recent weeks.  And you never know how the league’s owners – specifically Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs – will respond when they are given the details Wednesday. 

At the same time, we have arrived at the 11th hour to save the 2012-13 season. 

“We’re getting down to crunch time,” Predators defenseman Hal Gill said Tuesday.  “I don’t know how much of a season we can salvage, but if we want to do something it has to be done in the next few weeks.” 

Reasons for optimism: 

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the Pittsburgh Penguins’ trio of star Sidney Crosby and co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle made a significant impact Tuesday.  According to the paper, the three recently “have privately discussed plans to bridge the gap between players and owners.”  If there are any individuals that have the power to save the season, it’d be the league’s biggest star, a popular Hall of Famer, and one of the wealthier owners. 

– It’s been speculated that the NHL has been waiting for a specific date to seriously negotiate with the PA; two Predators players recently expressed that same opinion to me.  Why?  One reason is timing.  This coming from the Sports Business Journal: “Sponsors have clauses in their NHL contracts granting relief in the event of a work stoppage, reportedly after at least one quarter of the 82-game regular season is not played.” 

The next cancellation of games would likely result in more lost sponsorships.  The story notes that a lost 2004-05 season resulted in the NHL spending two years recovering lost sponsorships.  It would take longer following a lost 2012-13 season. 

– Other notes about the timing: Now that college football’s regular season is over, and the NFL’s is reaching its end, the NHL has an opportunity to generate positive headlines.  Most the negative headlines were swept under the national rug in the fall during the heart of football season and the MLB playoffs.  It’s also the holiday season, a good opportunity for the league to capitalize on excited hockey fans buying merchandise if the lockout ends. 

An important reason for pessimism: 

– The egos of Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman, among others, getting in the way. 

Eighty days into the lockout, we seem to finally – finally! – have some optimism and momentum.  Will it all be derailed in the coming days, or will more progress be made to end this madness?  Let’s hope for the latter.

Photo: sbnation.com

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