Owners, players meet without leaders
The best news on the 80th day of the NHL lockout was that hockey owners and players did most of their talking in front of each other instead of making public statements.
The dueling sides in hockey’s labor fight met for nearly eight hours — over two long sessions — on Tuesday, and those conversations lasted until midnight. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly stood side-by-side with union special counsel Steve Fehr at the end of the long and seemingly positive day, but didn’t take questions from a large group of reporters who staked out the meetings at a Manhattan hotel.
The sides already have plans to meet Wednesday morning with the same group before the league’s planned board of governors gathering, and could get back together after that is completed.
”We had a long day,” Fehr said. ”We thought it was a constructive day. We had a good dialogue. In some ways I’d say it might be the best day we’ve had, which isn’t too overly optimistic of a picture. There is still a lot of work to do and a lot to be done. We will be back at it tomorrow morning.”
Daly echoed Fehr’s comments, and spoke well of the talks that included 18 players and six team owners.
”I appreciate the efforts of the players,” Daly said. ”Everybody is working hard. I think everybody wants to get a deal done, so that’s encouraging. We look forward to hopefully making more progress tomorrow.
”Hopefully, we’ll have more to update you on tomorrow. We are going forward with our board meeting. Hopefully be back at it after that, as well.”
That was the extent of the details revealed by the two sides, which could be another good sign that neither group wanted to say anything that could throw the discussions off the rails.
A group of six owners and 18 players — many more than were originally expected — gathered to try to find some common ground as the search for a deal that would save the hockey season continued. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union executive director Donald Fehr were at the hotel but stayed outside the meeting room.
Not much had worked up until Tuesday so the sides agreed to a different format to see if that would shake things up.
”I’m hoping we get to where we need to be,” Bettman said before talks got under way Tuesday afternoon.
The dialogue continued, sometimes in smaller groups, throughout the day until the sides separated for a dinner break. The owners left while the players stayed to have a meal inside the hotel. The owners then returned to the hotel later Tuesday night for another round of talks with the union.
As more and more days pass by, the possibility that the entire hockey season will be lost grows. A lockout forced the cancellation of the 2004-05 season in February, and the belief is that the NHL won’t wait that long this time to call off this already-delayed and shortened campaign.
All games through Dec. 14, along with the New Year’s Day Winter Classic and the All-Star Game have been wiped off the schedule.
The NHL board of governors will meet in New York on Wednesday, likely to discuss Tuesday’s developments and perhaps where to go from here if a deal isn’t reached soon. More game cancellations could be announced then, and an internal deadline for eliminating the season could also be established.
Originally the thought was no one other than owners and players would be in attendance for Tuesday’s meeting, but each side had staff present, as well. The six selected owners were Ron Burkle (Pittsburgh Penguins), Mark Chipman (Winnipeg Jets), Murray Edwards (Calgary Flames), Jeremy Jacobs (Boston Bruins), Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jeff Vinik (Tampa Bay Lightning).
Jacobs, considered one of the hard-line owners, and Edwards are the only members of the group of six to have taken part in previous negotiations.
The NHL had no objection for more than six players to take part, so Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Shane Doan, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Ryan Miller, Craig Adams, David Backes, Michael Cammalleri, B.J. Crombeen, Mathieu Darche, Ron Hainsey, Shawn Horcoff, Jamal Mayers, Manny Malhotra, Andy McDonald, George Parros and Kevin Westgarth took part in negotiations.