NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, left, and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. (Chris Young / Canadian Press…)
Had the NHL season started last Thursday as scheduled, players would have received their first paychecks on Monday. Instead, the league-imposed lockout continued and the prospects of playing a full schedule grew smaller.
Representatives of the league and the NHL Players' Assn. did agree to convene on Tuesday in Toronto, where a meeting is expected to take place involving the "Big Four" of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr and NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr.
"Hope to have further dialog and discussion about how to move forward and get out of the place we are in," Daly told The Times via email. "Seems like we're stuck right now. Need to get 'unstuck.'"
That's one way to put it.
The two sides' last few meetings have largely involved issues such as player safety and drug testing, certainly vital matters but not the core disagreements that have kept them apart and led the league to lock out players on Sept. 15 and later cancel games though Oct. 24.
The thought was that any agreement on "lesser" issues might lead to finding consensus on bigger issues, but it's time to attack those bigger issues now, before more of the season slips away.
What's hindering progress is that neither side wants to make a concession for fear of being perceived as weak. There's still more posturing than negotiating going on because players have missed only one check -- a blow eased by the fact they'll soon get a refund on part of their escrow payment from last season -- and because the big-market owners haven't felt any real pain yet. The owners who make money will start to be heard at some point and start to drive some movement.
Until then, there's little to look forward to. An additional few weeks will be lopped off the season pretty soon, and Bettman is likely to declare that only a shortened season will be possible.
In the meantime, baseball is enjoying a fabulous postseason, the NBA is about to start its regular season and the NFL is getting into the heart of its schedule.
Hockey is receding further into the background at a rate that suggests that there will be less hockey-related revenue for the league and the union to argue over in the next dispute.
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