NHL, union leaders do lunch
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Lunch became news Saturday.
Not what was served or which New York restaurant, but simply the fact that representatives of the NHL and the NHL Players' Association sat at the same table.
It was not a negotiating session -- those broke off following Friday's talks -- but it was a sign that the sides are keeping the lines of communication open.
That's more than some might have hoped for as fuses shortened during four days in a row of negotiating.
Although there were no formal discussions held Saturday, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr planned to touch base Saturday evening or today to perhaps schedule the next session.
The league and the union made some progress toward agreeing on the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement and ending a lockout that has hit eight weeks.
Just how much progress, and in exactly which areas, is in some dispute, and it's possible there was a step back Friday.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said in a memo to players Thursday night that "there is still a lot of work to be done and bridges to be crossed before an agreement can be made."
Some 24 hours later, after Friday's negotiations, Donald Fehr said, "Gary [Bettman, NHL commissioner] made a comment [Thursday] that there is still a lot of work to do. I think, given [Friday's] session, there is still a lot of work to do. We looked at some of the numbers on the various proposals and we thought we were much closer together on the structure of a deal than the suggestions were. They came back to us and said, 'No, we are very, very far apart on the structure of the deal.'"
NHL sources told some media outlets, first reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, that the league was upset that Donald Fehr's memo on Thursday left out details of at least one league offer or mischaracterized things.
Fehr strongly denied that, and Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey, one of the players who sat in on the Thursday and Friday meetings, backed Fehr.
"This notion that something was hidden over the past 24 or 48 hours is totally inaccurate, and we feel that should put this issue to rest," Hainsey said.
It's possible the accusation further galvanized players. No Penguins were at the Thursday and Friday sessions, but they have consistently praised the lines of communication within the NHLPA since Donald Fehr came on board and have routinely balked at any suggestion that Fehr is doing anything other than representing their wishes.
Washington star winger Alex Ovechkin is playing in his native Russia during the lockout but is in the loop. He responded Saturday in broken English on Twitter, "Hahaha Whata clowns!!!....Don tell it all. Bla blah ...make a deal instead of talk about Don!"
The key issues remain revenue sharing and finding a way to ensure that players' contracts will be honored in full while the players' share of league revenues drops from 57 percent to around 50 percent. There is a secondary level of issues such as player pensions and contractual rights, plus a long list of remaining concerns, everything from safety to scheduling to Olympics participation.
First Published November 11, 2012 12:00 am