Crosby, Penguins owners push to save NHL season
By Rob Rossi
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 9:34 p.m.
The Penguins are sending everyone over the boards to try to end the NHL lockout.
Mario Lemieux arrived in New York on Tuesday, a day in which progress between the owners and players was facilitated in large part by co-owner Ron Burkle on one side and team captain Sidney Crosby on the other. Lemieux and team CEO David Morehouse are expected to attend the Board of Governors meeting Wednesday, multiple sources said.
Burkle and Crosby were described by participants in the five-hour talks as voices of reason. Their shared point of view: The NHL should not risk another round of canceled games — they're already canceled through Dec. 14 — and the league may not recover if a season is lost to a labor dispute for the second time in eight years, the sources said.
Talks between the NHL and its Players' Association continued late into Tuesday.
The Penguins are a moderate in the labor war, but they will not break ranks at the Governors' meeting, sources said. Rather, their contingent will try to establish what owners need to reach an agreement, the sources said.
Crosby also will not break ranks with the players' union, but his objective over the past week has been to establish common ground among players who have lost trust in NHL ownership and management as a whole, the sources said.
Over the past few weeks, Crosby, Burkle and Lemieux have privately discussed plans to bridge the gap between players and owners. The sources said all three had grown frustrated with the lack of progress.
Crosby and Burkle flew to New York together Monday. Burkle lives in suburban Los Angeles. Crosby's Los Angeles-based agent, Pat Brisson, also was on the flight, the sources said.
None of the Penguins' management contingent was available for comment, but Crosby told the Tribune-Review on Tuesday morning, “Ron is a great owner. He wants everything to be first class, and he cares about everyone in the organization. He only wants what's best for the team.”
The Penguins had no voice in previous labor meetings during the lockout, but the sources said Burkle requested to be involved early last week. His net worth is $3.5 billion, built on a California grocery empire, and he gained a reputation of helping strike deals with the unions he employed.
Among the other owners in the talks Tuesday was Tampa Bay's Jeff Vinik, who has become a favorite of Burkle and Lemieux since Vinik purchased the Lightning in February 2010. Lemieux has discussed ways to end the lockout with Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, a fellow Hockey Hall of Famer, the sources said.
In all, six owners met with 18 players, including the Penguins' union rep, Craig Adams. The meeting involved large group discussions and smaller sessions among teams — not dissimilar to an NHL general managers' meeting.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and union special counsel Steve Fehr attended, but commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr were not present.
Four owners not previously involved in talks attended the meeting. The NHL invited an unlimited number of players.
The sources said Burkle and Crosby shared the belief that players needed to hear from new owners because of the narrative that a handful of hard-line owners — the Boston Bruins' Jeremy Jacobs has gained the most publicity in this category — were hijacking the process.
Burkle, Lemieux and Crosby are aware they risk pushback from their respective sides for trying to establish trust, but they felt that risk was worth the reward, the sources said.
The divides remaining between the sides include the definition and split of revenue, guaranteeing current players' contracts and contractual rights such as free agency and maximum term limits.
Staff writer Josh Yohe contributed. Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-5635.
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