After promising start, NHL labor negotiations produce more of the same
NEW YORK — Tension ramped up in the back-and-forth NHL labor saga.
Owners and players — without the presence of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union executive director Donald Fehr for a second consecutive day — exchanged specifics during meetings Wednesday at the Westin Times Square hotel. An afternoon session lasted nearly four hours, and talks resumed late after a two-hour dinner break.
Still, the sides were no closer to a new labor contract, and the remaining December schedule is in peril if significant progress is not made by the weekend.
A group of moderate owners, led by Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle of the Penguins, have pledged to remain in New York until the next labor contract is agreed upon in principle. But even those moderates — the Penguins, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Toronto and Los Angeles — have held firm with hard-line clubs, such as Boston, that owners need immediate financial relief in the next contract.
Players hoped to hear something different from the likes of Burkle, especially after his cool and measured delivery at meetings Tuesday generated traction for stalled negotiations.
Instead, even from Burkle, they heard more of the same.
Owners want an immediate 50/50 division of revenue and some changes in the definitions. They claim a daily $20 million loss because of the lockout has lessened money available to honor current players' contracts. Also, they are seeking changes to free agency and max contract term limits.
The talks Tuesday struck positive notes because there was little vitriol, mostly thanks to the example set by Burkle and Penguins franchise player Sidney Crosby. Burkle and Lemieux have hoped to parlay their like-minded thinking with Crosby into progress between owners and players.
So far, no good.
The sessions Wednesday were similar to failed federally mediated negotiations last week. Common ground is scarce, and there remains deep distrust from players because of past labor disputes, including one from 2004-05 that forced the cancellation of the entire season.
Negative reaction by sponsors and fans to another labor dispute only eight years later is a concern to Burkle, who told players Wednesday he favors a 10-year contract that would guarantee a lengthy period of stability.
The union has not proposed a contract longer than five years.
A previously scheduled Board of Governors meeting was held before the owners-players meetings, and the Penguins were represented by Lemieux, Burkle, CEO David Morehouse, COO Travis Williams and general manger Ray Shero.
The Penguins and Flyers, bitter on-ice rivals but occasional teammates on league issues — most recently realignment — were the last clubs to leave the Governors meeting.
Bettman, who last week suggested these talks not include him and Fehr, said after the Governors meeting that he was “pleased with the process that is ongoing.”
A few hours later the process seemed to be going nowhere.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-5635.