NHL owners, players permitted to talk

| Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012, 8:06 p.m.

The NHL permitted owners and players to talk about the lockout last week.

That may have opened the league to possible legal action pending specifics of those conversations.

Permissions for communication was granted Oct. 17 to “ensure that the Players were receiving complete and accurate information about the details of our proposal,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email Tuesday.

The league is at risk if owners and/or general managers strayed from strict instructions laid out in a memo, excerpts of which were obtained by the Tribune-Review, a Downtown labor lawyer said.

“They're very careful with the language they use in the memo,” said Emily Town of Stember Feinstein Doyle Payne & Kravec, LLC.

“What the owners can and should say to players legally under the (National Labor Relations Act) is probably different than what gets discussed. That's the reality.”

Town, who represented the Arena Football League Players Union (AFLPU) in a labor dispute with the AFL, said “it's in everybody's best interest” for the NHL and NHLPA not to have to deal with the labor board.

However, the AFLPU filed various unfair labor charges with the board this past summer, and Town said the labor board's finding that those charges were with merit helped spark a new agreement between the AFL and its union.

A NHLPA official said it was too soon to determine any issues with conversations between owners/general managers and players last week. The union was not aware the NHL had permitted discussions until Monday.

The memo excerpts stated permission for discussions was conditional to conversations resulting from owners/general managers having been contacted by players regarding details about a labor agreement proposal the NHL presented Oct. 16.

The memo was sent on the same day the league made public the full details of its current offer – significant specifics which call for a 50/50 split of revenue between owners and players, and an 82-game season to begin no later than Nov. 2.

Owners/general managers were given a 48-hour window to speak with the players, who were locked out Sept. 15.

“I don't know of a conversation like that happening with anybody on our team,” Penguins union rep Craig Adams said.

No Penguins players said they were aware of a window to speak with club co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, CEO/president David Morehouse, or general manager Ray Shero.

The Penguins declined comment Tuesday. The NHL has authorized a $1 million fine on any club whose owner, governor, general manager or coach — basically, any person employed by the club — that publicly addresses the labor dispute.

“Most owners are not allowed to attend bargaining meetings,” NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said in an email. “No owners are allowed to speak to the media about the bargaining. It is interesting that they are secretly unleashed to talk to the players about the meetings the players can attend, but the owners cannot.”

Penguins veterans joined a chorus of NHL players to question the limited number of owners who frequent meetings between union executive director Donald Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

The union was backed by 18 players, including Adams and Sidney Crosby, when it presented three counter offers to the NHL last Thursday. Only four NHL owners — representing Boston, Minnesota, Washington and Calgary — were present for that meeting, which ended with the NHL flatly rejecting the union proposals.

The sides remain divided on calculations on a 50/50 division of revenue and how to guarantee payment of existing contracts. Also, no agreement has been reached on significant structural issues such as veteran contract lengths and discipline.

No negotiations are scheduled, but the union hopes to meet with the NHL on Wednesday.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rrossi@tribweb.com or 412-380-5635.

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