NHL, locked-out players resume bargaining
NEW YORK — The NHL and the players' association seemingly had a good day Friday as they returned to the negotiating table.
It just wasn't good enough to bring the sides all that much closer to the end of the lockout that threatens the start of the hockey regular season.
The league and the union got back to bargaining for the first time since players were locked out Sept. 16, and the sides discussed secondary issues without broaching the big economic divide that is the essence of the dispute.
“It was a good day,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Friday night after the second negotiating session of the day. “I wish we had spent today on what we consider to be the more meaningful issues, but it is what it is.”
The sides were together for a total of about five hours — including a private meeting between commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Donald Fehr.
A handful of players also took part in the talks.
The groups agreed on issues related to player safety and drug testing, areas that weren't expected to be contentious. They will get together again Saturday morning and plan to meet Sunday, too, but the topics of discussion still don't seem to include the big dollar issues.
“I don't know if I would say significant, but we did seem to make some progress on a number of things. Hopefully we will continue,” Players' Association special counsel Steve Fehr said. “There is no plan right now to discuss core economic issues.”
And that is where the frustration lies. The NHL is waiting for the union to make a counterproposal to one the league made in the previous bargaining session more than two weeks ago.
“We can't make them talk about what they don't want to talk about,” Daly said. “In fairness, we do have to cover these issues if we're going to reach an agreement.”
Former player Mathieu Schneider, now an NHLPA special assistant to the executive director, said Friday morning there were agreements on more rigorous drug testing, expanding it to parts of the year during which testing is not currently done.
Neither side sees the use of performance-enhancing drugs as a problem in the NHL.
“We're in agreement that it's not an issue in our sport,” Schneider said. “I think it's in the players' best interest as well as the sport to close off any possible time during the year where players could use.”
Other topics on tap for Friday and through the weekend are health and safety issues, time players spend at training facilities, and other non-economic topics.