NHL players: New owners needed at negotiations

| Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has offered to remove himself from labor negotiations.

Some players wish a specific group of owners would do the same.

Numerous Penguins who worked out Friday at Southpointe were indifferent to Bettman's request that he and NHLPA executive director Don Fehr remove themselves from the next round of negotiations in an attempt to spur progress. They were not, however, indifferent regarding Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and a few other owners they believe are calling the shots in the NHL's ongoing lockout of players.

The Penguins at Southpointe unanimously agreed that new blood at negotiations — namely moderate owners — is needed.

“That's a no-brainer,” Penguins left wing Matt Cooke said. “Put 30 guys in a room, and see how they act.”

Penguins player representative Craig Adams said that, as of Friday afternoon, Fehr had not discussed Bettman's offer with players. After a two-day attempt at federal mediation proved fruitless, Bettman suggested that negotiations without him and Fehr might be productive.

The union held an executive board and negotiation committee meeting Friday. No decision was made regarding the NHL's offer for a meeting involving only players and owners, union officials said.

Some Penguins don't necessarily disagree with Bettman's suggestion, but only on the condition more moderate owners join the discussions.

“It would be interesting to get more owners involved,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “If they can speak their actual opinions, that could sway things.”

Owners risk a $1 million fine from Bettman if they choose to speak publicly about the lockout.

Only a few — namely the outspoken Jacobs and Washington owner Ted Leonsis — have been regular attendees at negotiations since the lockout was triggered Sept. 15.

“Get some new owners there, and maybe something different happens,” right wing Pascal Dupuis said. “I won't say any names. People want to get Bettman out of there, and that's fine. But let's get some new blood in their on their side, and some new players in there. Maybe then something would happen.”

Adams has been involved in many face-to-face negotiations this fall and is willing to make alterations to the current landscape if it produces progress.

“If we aren't going to get any new opinions involved, then I'm not sure what the point would be,” Adams said. “It might be helpful to get some new owners in the room. If it's going to be the same guys it's been, what's the difference?”

Players still have trust issues pertaining to the league and owners.

“He thinks it will benefit him,” Niskanen said of Bettman's plan. “I'm not sure what angle he's trying to work. Personally, I don't think it will go very far. The owners have him in their back pocket anyhow. They're controlling this thing.”

And no one knows which direction this thing will go next.

No talks are scheduled as the sides remain apart on the division of league revenue and how signed contracts will be honored.

“I don't know what happens next,” Adams said.

Staff writer Rob Rossi contributed. Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jyohe@tribweb.com.

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