Mediator meets with NHL, union reps; no negotiations scheduled
A federal mediator spent Friday meeting separately with NHL and Players' Association officials in an attempt to prevent stalled negotiations from breaking off a week before the league's deadline to cancel the season, multiple sources said.
Mediator Scot Beckenbaugh met with top NHL brass at the league's Manhattan offices and with union officials and eight players at a New York hotel, the sources said.
“The whole process has obviously been contentious,” said Craig Adams, the Penguins' union representative. “You don't hear anyone talking about (being partners) anymore. Again, everybody knows what the issues are. It just comes down to trying to get what you want.”
Despite record revenue of $3.3 billion last season, owners voted unanimously to lock out players Sept. 15, when the last labor deal expired.
Hitting a wall
Three days of bargaining broke off Thursday, with no set plans for a return to negotiations. A day earlier, league officials were optimistic they were inching closer to a labor deal, the sources said.
The sides were in the early stages of preparing for a news conference as early as Tuesday to announce a deal, sources said. However, negotiations were halted by three issues: players' pensions, contract limits and a salary-cap decrease from Year 1 to 2 of a 10-year labor deal.
Pat Brisson, an agent for many high-profile players, including the Penguins' Sidney Crosby, said he has heard the next few days “are crucial” if the season is to be saved.
Several players said they have been advised by their agents to be ready for a game of musical chairs next week regarding possible jobs with European teams. That is a primary reason Penguins defenseman Kris Letang signed Friday with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia, sources said.
There is growing exasperation among moderates on both sides — a group that includes Penguins ownership and Crosby, the sources said.
The lockout's length, a lack of a clear path toward a deal and a sense of being frozen out of the process are concerns to an increasing number of owners, management officials and players, sources said.
Clubs' highest-ranking officers are not receiving firsthand information from the NHL, while players, including some Penguins, feel they cannot express concerns about union actions, the sources said.
The NHL and NHLPA declined comment Friday.
Clubs risk a fine up to $1 million if employees comment publicly on the labor dispute.
Bettman has said a deal must be reached by Jan. 11 for training camps to begin the next day and a 48-game season to begin Jan. 19.
The Winnipeg (Manitoba) Free Press reported Friday that Bettman will cancel the season Thursday if an agreement with the union has not been reached at least in principle. The report cited an anonymous NHL governor, of which there are 30 — one for each club.
Players are voting whether to authorize the union's executive board to file a disclaimer of interest, a legal maneuver that would disband the NHLPA and prevent collective bargaining. The vote requires two-thirds approval from more than 700 players, and it must be completed by 6 p.m. Saturday.
The NHLPA allowed a previous deadline of midnight Wednesday to pass without filing a disclaimer of interest.