NHL lockout: Union's 2 new proposals on table
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What had been characterized as talks between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association can be classified as negotiations now, although there is no indication that an end to the lockout is in sight.
The sides will meet for a fourth day in a row day today after passing a test. The union Wednesday presented offers on two key elements of what could become a new collective bargaining agreement. According to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, the league responded to those offers Thursday.
Neither side broke off talks or left in a huff after that give-and-take.
Three weeks ago, after the NHL seemed to break new ground and stirred optimism with an offer that included a 50-50 split of league revenues, the players balked at some details. When the union countered with three alternative offers, the league walked away after less than an hour.
In brief meetings with reporters after the session Thursday in New York, neither Fehr nor NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would divulge details of about 18 hours of talks so far this week, and Bettman noted that there is still "work to do."
The NHLPA's two new offers addressed revenue sharing, where the sides are believed to remain tens of millions of dollars apart, and a "make whole" provision from the NHL's latest offer designed to ensure that players' contracts are honored in full.
The league's earlier offer included deferred payments to players as their share of revenues shrank from 57 percent under the previous collective bargaining agreement to 50 percent. It is believed that the players' counter this week included a phase-in that would reach something around 50 percent within a few seasons.
How well negotiations on those key issues and many others go -- and even whether they continue past today -- will determine whether agreement on a new CBA can be struck in anything close to the near future. Already, the NHL has canceled the schedule through the end of this month and has called off its signature outdoor Winter Classic.
Even before the Thursday session, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby found optimism only in the most basic thing.
"At least we're talking," he said after practicing at Southpointe. "When there's talk, there's always a chance of progress. When there's no talk, there's zero chance."
Crosby attended the meeting Tuesday but returned to Pittsburgh before the session Wednesday because of bad weather moving into New York. For the time he was there, he did not see much in the way of negotiating.
"It was just conversation -- good conversation," he said. "Nothing really got accomplished as far as agreeing on everything, but I think the fact that there's some good explanations and both sides are hearing each other out, that's a start."
The site of the meetings, as with the content, were meant to be secret, but word surfaced Thursday that talks were at a law firm near Times Square, Proskauer Rose, which is affiliated with the NHL.
Crosby said the participants sat at a large table and that talks consisted of "explanations back and forth. You go through proposals -- why this is important or what they think."
Asked if he spoke Tuesday, he said: "Not during the proposals [discussion], but there were some conversations. Everybody did at some point. It's pretty good having players there, that interaction with owners."
Like Crosby, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury isn't willing to start doing cartwheels over a possible end to the lockout, which is nearly eight weeks old, but he's glad there are talks going on, and he feels more clued in than during the lockout that erased the 2004-05 season.
"It's positive, I guess," Fleury said. "As long as they talk and negotiate and try to get something done, that's great. And we know more now than we did in '04."
Fleury this week joined the group of Penguins skating locally four days a week after spending the first several weeks of the lockout in his native Montreal.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen has spent most of the lockout in Pittsburgh, although he took a break and left town for a while. He said it was a nice coincidence that he returned for practice Thursday at the same time sustained talks were unfolding.
"I planned this a while ago, but the timing was right," he said. "I was keeping track while I was gone, what was going on in negotiations.
"There's not a whole lot of excitement when they're not even talking, not even meeting. They're at least making an attempt, sitting down, having discussions. From what it sounds like, we didn't make a proposal and they walk out in 15 minutes [like last time]. So they're actually talking, which is a good sign."
NOTES -- Union representative Craig Adams did not attend the skate at Southpointe, but it was because of a conflict. He did not return to New York for CBA talks. He attended the session Tuesday with Crosby. ... Mark Mortland, a former longtime Penguins physical therapist, has begun working pre-practice with the players at Southpointe two mornings a week. ... The players mostly used just three-quarters of the ice at Southpointe because of a repaired patch at the top of one slot that was coned off.
First Published November 9, 2012 12:00 am