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NHL proposes direct negotiations between players and team owners

After mediators fail to produce a labor agreement, the NHL's Gary Bettman proposes a meeting that would exclude executives on each side and let owners talk with players directly.

November 29, 2012|By Helene Elliott
  • NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will try to get owners and players together in another attempt to break the deadlock in the labor negotiations.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will try to get owners and players together… (Louis Lanzano / Associated…)

Experienced negotiators and federal mediators couldn't resolve the labor dispute that threatens to consume the 2012-13 NHL season, so Thursday the league proposed putting the stalemate directly in the hands of players and owners.

Sessions conducted by officials of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service produced no agreement between the league and the NHL Players' Assn., leaving in place the lockout the NHL imposed on Sept. 15. After Thursday's talks, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman proposed arranging a meeting that would exclude executives on both sides and allow owners and players to have an unfiltered exchange of ideas.

The NHLPA did not immediately respond but was expected to raise the idea during a conference call Friday with players. Many players have taken part in negotiating sessions, but only a few owners have participated.

"We will be discussing all matters regarding the last two days of mediation as well as potential next steps with the executive board and negotiating committee," NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said.

An invitation from the mediation service had brought the league and union together for bargaining sessions on Wednesday and Thursday in Woodbridge, N.J. The mediation was led by Scot L. Beckenbaugh and John Sweeney, who were empowered to make suggestions but had no authority to impose a solution.

The NHL has canceled games through Dec. 14 as well as the Jan. 1 Winter Classic, and a new collective bargaining agreement would have to be forged soon to avoid more cancellations. However, the mediators could find no common ground to build upon.

The NHL was first to issue a statement after Thursday's final session.

"After spending several hours with both sides over two days, the presiding mediators concluded that the parties remained far apart, and that no progress toward a resolution could be made through further mediation at this point in time," Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "We are disappointed that the mediation process was not successful."

Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHLPA, said mediators had "informed the parties that they did not think it was productive to continue the discussions further.… The mediators indicated that they would stay in contact with the league and the NHLPA, and would call the parties back together when they thought the time was right."

The sides have agreed to a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue but disagree on a transitional system that would reduce the players' share from the 57% they got last season. The NHLPA measured the gap at $182 million, but the real stumbling block is that "make-whole" payments would put the players' share above 50% early in the deal. The union has discussed decertification, a strategy used by the NFL and NBA in negotiating new labor deals last year, but hasn't decided whether to proceed.

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