NHL, NHLPA to Resume Talks on Thursday With Owners Hoping for New Proposal From Union

NHL, NHLPA to Resume Talks on Thursday With Owners Hoping for New Proposal From UnionNEW YORK — The NHL and the players' association resumed meetings Thursday to try to end the month-long lockout.

Representatives of the NHL Players'
Association arrived in the morning at league headquarters, where the
sides met for about five hours Wednesday in an effort to work out a
deal.

Although it has been a week since the
NHL called off the first two weeks of the regular season, that sting
will be felt full force Thursday when what should have been opening day
passes without a puck hitting the ice.

The sides met twice Wednesday. If
talks go well Thursday, or if the scheduled work can't be completed,
there could be another day of discussions Friday.

Any bit of optimism at this point would be embraced.

"I think we're making progress in a
number of the areas that were discussed, which include health and
safety, drug testing issues, medical care," NHLPA special counsel Steve
Fehr
said. "They were good discussions. It's a shame that they are going
on in the midst of a lockout when we could be doing it while we're
playing, or we could've been doing it a month ago or two months ago."

The NHL's top two executives –
Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly — met with
the NHLPA's main negotiators — executive director Donald Fehr and his
brother Steve — for nearly an hour Wednesday morning to assess where the
sides were on Day 25 of the lockout, but there were no concrete
discussions on the troublesome core economic issues that are preventing a
deal from being struck.

A four-hour session stretched into the evening and included miscellaneous legal topics. The health issues
involved seeking multiple medical opinions on injuries, and who should
make determinations when a player is healthy enough to return to action
after being hurt.

"We have some disagreements in those
areas," Daly said. "When you get to this point of the discussions on
some of those areas, that is to be expected, so we're kind of refining
some of the things we continue to have disagreements on.

"We had no discussion of the major
economic issues or system issues, so that continues to be a
disappointment from our perspective."

There are still no plans to delve
into how the sides will split up hockey-related revenue that was in
excess of $3 billion last season.

"You often don't know whether you're
making progress until you look back on it," Steve Fehr said. "We were
just sort of discussing the overall status of the bargaining and where
the parties are."

The NHL is eager to get a new
proposal from the union on the main economic issues, but the players
contend that they have moved closer to the league's demands in their
previous offers while the NHL has only sought to take more away from the
union in each proposal it has made.

"I wouldn't say [talks] are dead in
the water," Steve Fehr said. "The sides are in constant communication. I
think we have a pretty good sense of where each other is."

However, Donald Fehr has floated the
idea that the longer the lockout goes on, the players might seek to make
an offer that doesn't include a salary cap — the very issue that led to
the cancellation of the 2004-05 season. The collective bargaining
agreement that finally ended that lockout seven years ago expired last
month.

"None of those comments were a
surprise to me," Daly said. "If that is the direction they choose to go
in, that's up to them. I don't make the decisions for them. They've
suggested they want to get the players back on the ice soon. I can
pretty much assure you if they make that proposal, it won't get the
players back on the ice soon."

If discussions don't get jump-started soon, more games will be wiped out.

For now, Daly and the NHL just want to hear something new from the union.

"We're trying to think of ideas to
move the process forward," he said. "Our message to the players'
association was we're encouraging them to make a proposal. We hear, we
understand that they have been working on some concepts, some ideas.
We've suggested to them to just make the proposal.

"Any movement is better than no
movement at all. If we move sideways, hopefully we move it forward. But
even if we move backward, it might be better than where we are now."

These were the first negotiations
since the sides held an unannounced meeting in Toronto on Friday to
discuss where they were and how to advance the talks.

Last week, the NHL canceled — at least temporarily — 82 games from Thursday through Oct. 24.

Daly estimated the NHL lost $100
million from the cancellation of the entire preseason and another $140
million to $150 million with the regular-season losses.

"It's unfortunate for both of us," he
said. "It's a significant amount of money that the players share in on a
significant basis. Whatever that percentage ends up being, it's a
significant basis.

"Even more disappointing from our
collective perspective is we felt like over the last seven years we've
built up a lot of momentum in the business. We've had a lot of growth,
and who knows what a work stoppage from this will do to our momentum."

One victory was achieved by the NHL
on Wednesday when the Alberta Labor Relations Board ruled that the
lockout of players from the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames can
continue.

The board said declaring the lockout
illegal in the province wouldn't help the league and its players reach a
settlement. The players had argued that the Oilers and Flames are
Alberta businesses and as such, must abide by provincial labor rules.

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