After the latest dance steps by the NHL owners and players, the major issues remain unsolved with the only sign of hope being the fact they will talk again on Friday.
"I'm not going to characterize [the negotiations] except to say that it's always better when you're meeting than when you're not," NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr said Thursday night after the end of the third day of collective bargaining between players and management, the almost 20 hours of total meetings representing the longest stretch of face-to-face bargaining since the lockout began Sept. 15.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, like Fehr breaking a media silence of several days, said, "I don't know what Don [Fehr] said but the fact is, we have a lot of work to do and we're working hard."
The only real news of the day was the revelation of the "undisclosed location" of this series of talks in New York. It turned out to be the offices of the law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP at Eighth Avenue and 41st Street in midtown Manhattan, the unofficial farm team of NHL and NBA management. Both NBA commissioner David Stern and his one-time protegé, Bettman, graduated from the firm to their present jobs.
Proskauer is the preferred law firm of the NHL for outside counsel and one of its star lawyers, Bob Batterman, is the architect of the 2004-05 lockout that wiped out the entire season as well as the current lockout. He was also hired by the NFL and NBA when they negotiated their last collective agreements with the players.
Perhaps the players' willingness to meet in the offices of Proskauer Rose over three days was a sign they are willing to beard the lion in his den.
In any event, The Canadian Press reported Thursday the players presented two offers to the owners, one concerning revenue-sharing and the other a response to the owners' movement on the "make-whole provision" on paying 100 per cent of the value of existing contracts once they move to a 50-50 split of annual revenue after the 57 per cent the players received in the last labour agreement.
No details of the offer were available, although Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com reported the players' offer contained a feature of their earlier offers, which was that the move from a 57-per-cent share of revenue to 50-50 would be phased in over the first three years of a collective agreement. The earlier proposals were rejected by the owners.
While both sides broke their public media silence Thursday, neither was particularly forthcoming about the state of the talks. Public sentiment this week ranged from optimism on Tuesday, when talks began, to confusion Thursday mixed with hope, simply because talks will continue Friday and perhaps through the weekend.
"All I can say is we discussed a wide range of topics relating to issues between us," Fehr said. "I really can't say more than that at this point."
Fehr said the silence on both sides was the result of the constant public discussion of their negotiations.
"You hear things and you need to think about it, work on it, you need to formulate an appropriate response," he said. "Sometimes that becomes more difficult if you talk publicly about it before you go through the work."