An apparent concession by the owners injected some hope into the NHL lockout for the first time in two weeks but the NHL Players’ Association wants to hear more details before it returns to the bargaining table.
That is why NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr will sit down with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly on Saturday, in parts unknown. They will discuss ways to get the labour talks started again. However, a full bargaining session with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr plus various owners and players is still not on the schedule.
Darren Dreger of TSN reported Friday night that the owners told the union on Tuesday they would change the “make-whole” provision in their last offer. The owners said they would be willing to see the money for ensuring the players receive full value for their current contracts come out of their share of the revenue rather than the players’ share in the later years of the agreement.
The most recent offer came on Oct. 18 and called for a reduction of the players’ share of the NHL’s hockey-related revenue (HRR) from 57 per cent in the last collective agreement to a 50-50 split. But the players balked at the idea of having their contracts topped up to 100 per cent by reducing their share of revenue in the later years of a six-year agreement.
The NHLPA responded to the offer with three alternatives. In one of them, they offered for the first time to take an immediate cut to 50 per cent but only if 13 per cent of HRR was set aside for paying current contracts in full, with the remaining 87 per cent split 50-50 with the owners. That was quickly rejected, negotiations ended and the labour situation hit a new low Friday when the NHL cancelled the Winter Classic.
However, the union did not immediately leap to renew negotiations when the NHL made what its negotiators call a “major concession" earlier this week. Since the players' contracts will be reduced because of the escrow system, in which a portion of their pay cheques is set aside until the following summer to ensure the owners receive their share of league revenue once the final numbers are tallied, the players want to know just what kind of formula the league is proposing to pay them in full.
The current contracts were signed when players received 57 per cent of HRR, so switching them to a 50-50 deal means a large escrow hit for the players. If the owners are willing to lower the escrow payments or cap them to ensure some of the money saved will go to the make-whole payments, then negotiations may resume as soon as the start of next week.
Until news of the NHL owners’ change hit on Friday, the league made it clear it was not willing to open talks again until the players agreed to negotiate directly from the league’s last offer. But Donald Fehr said the players would only return to the bargaining table if there were no conditions on their discussions. Presumably, that is part of what will Daly and Donald's brother Steve, will discuss on Saturday.
Donald Fehr was not available for comment.