Finally, some optimism.
A marathon day of collective bargaining meetings between NHL owners and players wrapped up with a sight not previously seen during the 12-week lockout — deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr standing beside one another at a podium talking about the progress made during negotiations.
“In some ways I’d say it might be the best day we’ve had, which isn’t too overly optimistic of a picture — there’s still a lot of work to do and a lot to be done,” Fehr said after the sides broke just before midnight on Tuesday. “We will be back at it tomorrow morning.”
The league and union were expected to return to the bargaining table around 9 a.m. on Wednesday, a couple hours before the start of a board of governors meeting. Daly said that event would go ahead as planned.
With commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr excusing themselves from the bargaining table, players and owners engaged in a stirring round of negotiations. Different variations of the group shuffled between rooms at a midtown Manhattan hotel as whispers of optimism circulated.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was among the 18 players who sat across from six team owners, which included Pittsburgh’s Ron Burkle, and those two were said to be strong voices in the room, according to sources.
“Sid’s a team guy,” said a source close to Crosby. “He’s about the game.”
Even though Bettman and Donald Fehr stayed out of the official sessions, they were present at the hotel and held private sessions with their constituents.
It was hoped that an altered dynamic at the bargaining table might break the stalemate in talks. Bettman tabled the idea last week after the sides spent two unsuccessful days with U.S. federal mediators.
Four of the owners in attendance were taking part in their first bargaining session — Burkle, Winnipeg’s Mark Chipman, Toronto’s Larry Tanenbaum and Tampa’s Jeff Vinik — and were accompanied by Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs and Calgary’s Murray Edwards, both part of the NHL’s negotiating committee.
The players in attendance represented a cross-section of the NHLPA’s membership.
Stars like Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Miller and Brad Richards joined the likes of Ron Hainsey, Mathieu Darche and Kevin Westgarth, who have been heavily involved throughout the summer.
“I appreciate the efforts of the players in particular — we had 18 players in there today and six of owners,” said Daly. “I think everybody is working hard, I think everybody wants to get a deal done so I think that’s encouraging.
“We look forward to hopefully making more progress tomorrow.”
There appeared to be a heightened sense of urgency around negotiations with the league’s board of governors scheduled to gather Wednesday and more cancellations expected by the end of the week. All regular season games through Dec. 14, plus the Winter Classic and all-star game, have already been wiped off the schedule.
Money remains the biggest issue for the sides to bridge.
Even though both the league and union have proposed a 50-50 split of revenues, they remain separated on payments to be made outside the system to help ease the transition from the previous deal, which saw players receive 57 per cent. The NHL has offered $211-million in deferred compensation while the union has asked for $393-million.
There are also a number of rules governing player contracts that must be worked out before a new CBA is signed.
“We’re going to work hard to try and get a deal,” said Daly.