Don’t get your hopes up yet, but we may finally have some traction in labor negotiations between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association.
The two No. 2’s – Bill Daly and Steve Fehr – met for several hours Saturday and into the night at a neutral, undisclosed location, and there are plans for the league and union to meet again early this week. It’s uncertain if the next meeting will again include Daly and Steve Fehr, or if Commissioner Gary Bettman and Executive Director Don Fehr will join the fray.
“We had a series of meetings over the course of the day and had a good, frank discussion on the most important issues separating us,” Daly said.
In other words, the two sides are sitting down and talking about the nuts and bolts of the issues that could actually end this lockout and save a portion of the season rather than simply the peripheral, “non-core economic” issues, that were largely talked about whenever Daly and Steve Fehr met alone in September and October.
"I agree with what Bill said," Steve Fehr said. "Hopefully we can continue the dialogue, expand the group, and make steady progress."
TSN's Aaron Ward reported that the NHLPA negotiating committee has a conference call this afternoon.
As first reported late Friday by TSN’s Darren Dreger, Daly made it known to Fehr during a substantive phone conversation Tuesday that the owners were willing to absorb the share of the “Make Whole” proposition.
On Oct. 16, the NHL proposed an immediate 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues with the players and a “make whole” proposition where all players would be reimbursed the 12.3 percent cut in salaries over the length of their contracts. The kicker was that money would ultimately be charged to the player share in future years.
The league on Tuesday told the union that the owners are now willing to absorb that burden. Of course, the devil’s in the details, and how that would work is key and you can bet this topic was a significant portion of yesterday’s meetings between Daly and Steve Fehr.
But this is huge concession because players have made very clear in the last little bit that they are willing to go to a 50-50 split as long as all their contracts mutually negotiated in good faith under the previous collective bargaining agreement are honored in full.
If that’s true, and there’s indeed no strings attached to this owner proposition, this would be a huge step toward a new CBA and then moving on to negotiating the other systematic changes the league wants to make that the players have had issues with (moving free agency to age 28 or eight years of service, five-year max contracts, year to year salary variability of 5 percent, dropping entry-level deals from three years of length to two, etc).
There has been a lot of headway in negotiations that really has not been spelled out to date, but because the owners are looking to reduce the players’ share from 57 to 50 in a new CBA, there seems to be a perception that the players would get nothing in a new CBA.
That’s not entirely true.
Among other things, the owners have proposed to 1) artificially inflate the salary cap in Year 1 so teams don’t have to trade or release players; 2) trade player salary and cap charges in trades (this is something both teams and players have wanted); 3) eliminate re-entry waivers; 4) Increase revenue sharing with further increases as revenues grow, and the top grossing teams making the biggest contributions (revenue sharing is something Don Fehr is passionate about; wants it so the teams that really need assistance are assisted); 5) Introduction of appeal rights to a neutral third-party arbitrator in cases involving on- and- off-ice discipline (player-proposed wish).
Some other things that the players should like:
1) Joint NHL/NHLPA Health and Safety Committee with equal representation by the league and union; 2) Establishment of a “standard of care” and “primary allegiance” obligations between the team medical staff and players (this is directly due to the tragic Derek Boogaard situation that remains ongoing); 3) Offseason rehab activities would no longer be required in the team’s home city; 4) Players have access to second medical opinions at the club expense; 5) Ice time restrictions and days off during training camp; 5) Improved facility standards in visiting locker rooms; 6) Ice condition improvements and standards; 7) More player friendly rules for parent-son trips, teams would have to pay for parents travel and lodging to first-ever games, other milestones; 8) Different standards for rent and mortgage reimbursements from teams; 9) increased access to tickets for visiting players and also a game ticket policy that minimizes the tax impact on players; 10) And also, the league has agreed to consider a player proposal for single rooms for all players on the road, which would be thousands of extra dollars spent on travel. Typically, players share rooms on the road unless you’re a longstanding player (600 games), or in a lot of cases, goaltenders.
The Wild saved money on this with the great Nick Schultz. He reached his single room milestone, but he stayed with Mikko Koivu because Koivu told Schultz that if he ditched him as a road roommate, Koivu would never talk to him again.
As Schultz joked for that story I wrote at the time: “I’m stuck with him.”
Anyway, if you’ve read me or listened to me on the radio throughout this process, you know I’ve been very pessimistic about a deal getting done. I would say I’ve switched to cautiously optimistic now. I have been given hope that the two least turbulent leaders in this negotiation are sitting down talking about things that actually matter, and without storming off in a huff and a puff.
This is a math equation now. Solve the math equation, save some face, catapult this league back onto the national landscape and make sure that a large portion of the 2012-13 season is played.
By the way, there has been a lot of Twitter speculation that if a deal is consummated quickly that the Winter Classic can be “uncanceled.” No chance of that.
The time had come where the game needed to be postponed until next year.
Between the Winter Classic (about 115,000 tickets) at the “Big House” and the Hockeytown Winter Festival (250,000 tickets) at Comerica Park, more than 365,000 fans would have attended the events. Many of those fans needed to make plans that would have required non-refundable airline tickets and hotel commitments.
More than 10,000 temporary employees needed to be hired, seven games were taking place involving the NCAA, AHL and OHL and several high school and youth games, there were two alumni games, business and broadcast partners needed to know, HBO 24/7 had to start and then there were immense operational costs (security, rent for the stadiums, cancelation deadlines for hotels, assembling the rinks, securing deposits for generators, heavy equipment, trailers, tents, video boards), ordering product to be sold at retail, production of banners and décor.
This cannot magically resurrect itself now. The Winter Classic will not occur even if a deal is struck in short time between the NHL and NHLPA.
Forget the Winter Classic. Let’s just hope for that deal now. Stay tuned.
More from Star Tribune
More from Russo's Rants
Wild coach Mike Yeo continued to talk about the progress his team has made in recent games, but understands that people are frustrated when the progress doesn't result in victories.
Alex Ovechkin's hat trick helped hand the Wild its seventh consecutive home loss.
The Caps are the best team in the NHL, and goalie Braden Holtby has been the winningest goalie in the league. So the Wild would be facing quite a challenge, even if it was playing well.
Wild coach Mike Yeo, whose team faces Washington on Thursday, knows the pressure is on and he's been spending a lot of time meeting with general manager Chuck Fletcher. "That's the life of a coach in the NHL," Yeo said.
Thomas Vanek's overtime mistake proved costly as the Wild fell for a sixth straight game and 11th time in 12 games.