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NHL clubs facing cold realities of labor dispute

With no imminent resolution to the dispute that led the league to lock players out, teams begin tightening their economic belts by laying off some employees and reducing the hours and wages of others.

September 17, 2012|By Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times
  • A padlock is in place on a gate at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Canada, on Sunday as the NHL locked out players.
A padlock is in place on a gate at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Canada, on… (Darryl Dyck / Canadian Press…)

NEW YORK — With no labor negotiations Monday and no imminent resolution to the dispute that led the NHL to lock players out late Saturday, teams began tightening their economic belts by laying off some employees and reducing the hours and wages of others.

The Ottawa Senators let go more than 10 people, the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks instituted a four-day work week and 20% pay cut, and the Minnesota Wild — which committed $196 million to free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise on each player's 13-year contract — will cut some executives' pay.

Players continued to look overseas for the duration of the lockout, led by Ilya Kovalchuk arranging to play in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Joe Thornton and Rick Nash heading to Davos, Switzerland. Kings center Anze Kopitar was near an agreement to join the second-tier Swedish team Mora, according to his agent, Pat Brisson of CAA. Kopitar, who will skate alongside his brother Gasper, will be able to rejoin the Kings when the lockout ends.

When that will happen remains uncertain.

Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Assn., told The Times on Monday he doesn't know where talks will go from here. Training camps are scheduled to open Friday with the first exhibition to be played on Sunday, but the NHL is expected to start canceling exhibitions by the end of the week.

"The answer is, I don't know for sure how it's going to play out," Fehr said. "We always are in the process of review, re-evaluation and reconsideration and all the rest of it. And we'll have to see how it develops. ... If we come up with an idea, I'm not going to keep it to myself."

Fehr's brother, Steve, the NHLPA's special counsel, is scheduled to speak Tuesday with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, but no full-scale talks were set. Although both sides said the start of a lockout might spur them to withdraw their last proposals and put forth less favorable terms — sparking speculation the NHLPA might move to abolish the salary cap it accepted in the last labor deal — Donald Fehr said the union hadn't modified or withdrawn any of its positions.

"We haven't changed anything. The cap is still on the table," he said. "What I said in response to the commissioner's statement that their position might change and might get worse if a lockout began is that first of all, everybody always understands that, and secondly, that the players reserve that right, too. But no decision has been made in that regard. "

Fehr also disputed the NHL's statement Sunday that it "has been, and remains, committed to negotiating around the clock," saying the league rebuffed Steve Fehr's suggestion to talk until the lockout deadline. "I just took it as complete and utter spin and not otherwise serious," Donald Fehr said.

Daly was in Toronto on Monday to talk to on-ice officials — who won't be paid during the lockout — and to conduct media interviews. He said that the NHL, in allowing players to be paid 57% of revenues in the final year of the old labor deal, "missed on that. It turned out to be too much." And, he added, "there is a deal to be done" that would strengthen weak clubs and solidify the league's economics.

"I think we can come up with a collective bargaining agreement, combined with a revenue sharing program, that gives clubs an ability to be stable and competitive and financially successful," he said, but he wouldn't specify how that could be achieved.

Kings forward Kevin Westgarth, a member of the NHLPA's negotiating committee, said a lengthy lockout could hurt the Stanley Cup champion Kings.

"I think it would be terrible to lose momentum that the league has gained over the last seven years," he said. "Especially in Los Angeles after our incredible storybook Cup run. It's something I would hate to give away — for no reason."

Veteran Ducks forward Teemu Selanne said in a blog for the Finnish TV broadcaster MTV3 that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is "definitely the most hated person in the NHL" after triggering three lockouts. "I'm sorry especially for the fans," Selanne said.

Whitney Garvens, a spokeswoman for Fox Sports West, said contingency plans are being discussed for programming on FS West and Prime Ticket if Kings and Ducks games are canceled. "In the meantime, we're hoping that both sides come to an agreement and no games are missed," she said.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

Lisa Dillman contributed to this story.

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