Hockey fans hold a protest outside the NHL offices in New York. (Allison Joyce / Getty Images )
The NHL Players' Assn. has accepted the league's invitation to hold a meeting between players and owners, but as with most aspects of their labor dispute, this isn't quite what it seems.
The session, scheduled to take place Tuesday in New York, won't be strictly limited to players and owners: It will also include staff members and counsel for both sides. However, neither NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman nor NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr is expected to attend, a good omen for those who think each leader's ego has gotten in the way of reaching a new collective bargaining agreement and saving a semblance of the NHL season.
Whether the owners and players will make any headway is unclear because the NHL's roster includes Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, who is considered the most hawkish of the league's owners when it comes to extracting economic concessions from players. Jacobs is a staunch supporter of Bettman and the league's hard-line position that it can’t afford to pay out more than 50% of hockey-related revenues and must tighten the qualifications for free agency and salary arbitration, in addition to limiting contracts to five years.
According to a news release from the NHL, the other participating owners are California billionaire Ron Burkle of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mark Chipman of the Winnipeg Jets, Murray Edwards of the Calgary Flames, Larry Tanenbaum of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Jeff Vinik of the Tampa Bay Lightning. "We will provide further details when available and as appropriate," Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.
Without Bettman present, Daly will lead the league's delegation. The NHLPA delegation will be led by Steve Fehr, its special counsel and Donald Fehr's brother. The NHLPA, which mulled the league's offer over the weekend, hasn't identified the players who will attend.
Donald Fehr said the meeting "should facilitate dialogue between players and owners." He added, "There will be owners attending this meeting who have not previously done so, which is encouraging and which we welcome. We hope that this meeting will be constructive and lead to a dialogue that will help us find a way to reach an agreement."
The NHL is also scheduled to hold a Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday in New York. That session will give Bettman an opportunity to update every team on the status of the labor talks.
If things don't go well this week, it’s likely the league will cancel another block of games. It has canceled games through Dec. 14, in addition to the Winter Classic on New Year's Day and the All-Star game.
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