Fans at a Pirates-Braves game last month express their feelings about the… (Justin K. Aller / Getty Images )
Meeting in a super-secret location away from the eyes of the New York and Toronto media apparently has helped the NHL and the players’ union gain some traction in their long-stalled labor talks.
Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL, and Steve Fehr, special counsel to the NHL Players’ Assn., met several times Saturday and finally broke up about 10 p.m. Pacific time. Instead of engaging in finger-pointing and rhetoric afterward, each issued a straightforward statement Sunday. That’s huge progress in itself.
“We had a series of meetings over the course of the day [Saturday] and had a good, frank discussion on the most important issues separating us,” Daly said. “We plan to meet again early in the week.”
Steve Fehr was equally matter-of-fact.
“I agree with what Bill said. Hopefully we can continue the dialog, expand the group, and make steady progress,” he said.
Hallelujah. Reason might finally be intruding on a collective bargaining process that has until now lacked much logic or rationale.
But before you start planning for the end of the lockout that the NHL imposed on Sept. 15, remember that there’s still a lot of ground to cover. Still, this last ice-breaking move (if you’ll pardon the pun) offer some shred of hope that the season, which has already lost games through Nov. 30 in addition to the cancellation of the Jan. 1 Winter Classic, might yet be played in a shortened form.
The big breakthrough occurred last week, when the league agreed to adjust its stance on the “make whole” clause in its last proposal. That clause, supposedly designed to repay players the money they’d have to pay into escrow to go from last season’s 57% of hockey-related revenues to the 50% they’ve agreed to accept, would have deferred payments early in the new labor deal. Those payments would have counted against players’ salary later.
The league apparently is willing to rework that to ensure that players get the full value of their contracts, though it’s not clear how exactly that will happen.
There are other issues to be settled, including the NHL’s desire to change the conditions for unrestricted free agency and to limit contracts to five years’ duration, but the “make whole” issue has been a key point of contention for players.
The site of Saturday’s meetings remains a secret, and that’s fine. The less rhetoric the better, especially for the ears of fans who have been angry or — even worse — apathetic about the league’s third lockout in 18 years.
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