The NHL and NHLPA continue to talk. Will it lead to a deal?
NHL people are superstitious by nature, and labor negotiators tend to do their best to keep things close to the vest, so it was a very careful dance that Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr performed on Tuesday night after the latest round of negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA. With about 10 days left to finalize a new collective bargaining agreement, end the lockout and salvage a partial season, nobody wanted to say the word “progress.”
For the second straight day, there was a new proposal on the table, as the NHL on Tuesday offered what Fehr called a “comprehensive response” to the NHLPA’s Monday counteroffer. It is now up to the union to make the next move, and another meeting is likely to take place Wednesday.
“We asked a couple of questions,” Fehr said. “Now we have to go through the document, try to make sense out of it, compare it, and see what the appropriate thing is to do next. That’s what we’re going to do.”
That was what the NHL did on Monday night and most of Tuesday. The bargaining session was initially expected to take place around noon but wound up starting around 9 p.m. as the league took time to put together its response. Time may be running short in order to get a season under way by the league’s stated deadline of Jan. 19 (a deal must be in place about a week before that), but it also is not a time to be sloppy.
It also is not a time for the posturing and public relations spinning that characterized negotiations from July until late last week. As such, Fehr limited his news conference to 43 seconds, while Bettman, speaking second, spoke for a little more than two minutes because he received more questions. Not that he was in much of a mood to provide expansive answers.
“I don’t think it helps the process to give what our expectations are right now,” the commissioner said. “It’s up to the Players’ Association to come back to us now in response to what they’ve been given this evening. … There’s a process that’s ongoing, and I’m thankful for that.”
That process could have just as easily taken place in the summer, but there is little use now in revisiting the failures that resulted in the cancellation of half the season. The point is that now, finally, there is actually something happening that sounds like a negotiation.
“In our response, there were certain things that the Players’ Association asked for that we agreed to,” Bettman said. “There were some things that we moved in their direction, and there were other things that we said ‘No.’ That’s what the process is.”
Bettman would not say how many “things” fit into each category, nor would he estimate how many issues remain to be resolved. Of the few details to leak out, Renaud Lavoie of the Canadian network RDS reported that revenue sharing between owners “is close to a done deal,” while the NHLPA has conditionally accepted the NHL’s request for a 10-year CBA. The union had been seeking an eight-year term for the labor agreement. Other key areas to deal with include the maximum length of player contracts and pensions.
While there was a hangup on the pension issue on Tuesday, according to Chris Johnston of the Canadian Press, it clearly was not a big enough disagreement to send either side scurrying from the negotiating table. That is a marked change from the earlier stages of negotiations. Progress, one might even say. Or not say.
“It’s better to be meeting than not,” Fehr said. “But I’m not saying anything else.”