NHL, union talk, but no progress on contract issues

| Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, 11:50 a.m.

There are indisputable facts that indicate an increased level of urgency between the NHL and its Players' Association.

Talk from both sides suggests there is no end in sight to a lockout nearing two months in length.

Day 57 of the lockout passed Sunday but not without a 90-minute bargaining session. The league and union have met to negotiate five of the last six days after limited negotiations since the lockout began Sept. 15.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said Sunday he “suspects it won't be too long” before future meetings, but there are no set plans for another negotiation.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly are scheduled to attend Hockey Hall of Fame ceremonies Monday in Toronto.

The NHLPA plans to request that future negotiations move to that Canadian city after group meetings this week took place in New York. The Sunday negotiation was staged at NHL headquarters in Manhattan, though previous sessions last week were held at the offices of a law firm that represents the league.

Games through November along with the New Year's Day Winter Classic outdoor game (and accompanying events) are canceled. The NHL would like to play a shortened season, at least 60 games, starting no later than the first week of December.

The NHL and NHLPA are divided on many fronts, with disputes on owners' revenue sharing, annual revenue division and the method for guaranteeing players' current contracts. Also, there is no consensus on how to project future revenue growth given the loss of games this season and an anticipated pushback from disillusioned fans and sponsors.

Contracting issues carried the Sunday negotiation.

On that matter, Daly said there was “no progress,” and Fehr said he could not see “path to an agreement.”

Owners have proposed five-year maximum veteran contracts and for free agency to begin at age 28 or after eight seasons of service.

This push for limits is because owners want to mandate against front-loaded deals such as the ones signed this summer –– most notably by the Minnesota Wild, a mid-revenue franchise, which won the free-agency sweepstakes for forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.

The dual $98 million deals for Parise and Suter call for the Wild to pay for larger chunks of actual salary early in those contracts.

The Penguins had resisted front-loading contracts, at least under the 13-year tenure of majority co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle. Star Sidney Crosby, however, was signed to a 12-year, $104.4 million extension in July that will pay him more money in the early years of his deal.

“The contract rights are very important to clubs,” Daly said.

The union opposition to contract restrictions is as strong as its stance against immediate implementation of a 50/50 split of revenue –– a record $3.3 billion last season –– between players and owners.

Penguins union representative Craig Adams often cited contractual issues when addressing the greatest gaps between players and owners. A majority of players' contracts will expire after this season, and there is concern from veterans who do not want their potential earnings affected by term restrictions on future deals.

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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