NHL lockout: Owners propose halting talks for two weeks

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There have been some eye-catching proposals put forth during the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement in the NHL.

Most have dealt with issues like how to divide the billions of dollars the league takes in every season and whether there should be limits on the length of contracts.

But one the league submitted to the NHL Players' Association earlier this week might be the most novel to date, on any subject, since the talks began: The NHL floated the idea of simply halting negotiations for two weeks.

The NHLPA has yet to formally respond to that suggestion but, with the lockout that has frozen the league since mid-September entering its third month, the concept doesn't seem to be particularly popular with the union's rank-and-file.

"It's kind of laughable," said Penguins forward Craig Adams after a player-organized workout Friday at Southpointe. "I don't know what good reason they could possibly have for that. It's just another sign of where [league officials'] heads are. That's what they want. They want to drag this thing on."

NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr issued a statement suggesting that the league's shutdown proposal reflects the lack of urgency it feels to reach a settlement.

"We believe that it is more likely that we will make progress if we meet than if we don't, so we are ready to meet," Fehr said. "If indeed they do not want to meet, it will be at least the third time in the last three months that they have shut down the dialogue, saying they will not meet unless the players meet their preconditions.

"What does that tell you about their interest in resolving this?"

Although the NHL did not explicitly spell out why it believes the talks should be put on hold, deputy commissioner Bill Daly was quoted as saying that "from our perspective, we have made repeated moves in the players' direction with absolutely no reciprocation."

"Unfortunately, we have determined we are involved with union leadership that has no genuine interest in reaching an agreement," he said. "Regardless of what we propose, or how we suggest to compromise, the answer is 'No.' At some point, you just have to say, 'Enough is enough.' "

Daly added that the NHLPA has "made essentially one proposal, five times."

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury speculated that calling off negotiations for a couple of weeks -- and, in the process, moving a half-month closer toward possible cancellation of the entire season -- might be a tactical move by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman "to put some pressure on us."

Some NHLPA members suspect the league believes the threat of going without paychecks for an entire year will cause the players to cave, but there are others who insist they don't see how putting the talks on ice would benefit either side.

"I don't see how that's going to help anything," Crosby said. "If that's the way [Bettman] feels, ultimately that's up to them.

"I don't really see that being the best way to find a resolution. I guess that's the way this has all gone. It's a frustrating thing to go through."

The NHLPA no longer appears to enjoy unflinching and universal support for the stances it has taken in these negotiations, but that's hardly a surprise in a group whose 700-plus members have a wide range of personal priorities.

What's more, splintering is not synonymous with shattering, and the NHL's negotiators will have to determine whether the players' front simply has developed hairline cracks or actually has deep fissures that could be exploited by ownership.

"The front is solid," Adams said. "We continue to believe in what we're negotiating for and what we've said all along. But it's certainly discouraging."

NOTES -- Penguins winger James Neal is scheduled to participate in a charity game Nov. 24 in Atlantic City, N.J. Proceeds from the event, which will take place at Boardwalk Hall, will benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey. ... Evgeni Malkin failed to record a point for the second game in a row as Metallurg Magnitogorsk lost to Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk, 3-2, in a Kontinental Hockey League game Friday.

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.


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