NHL commissioner, union to hold labor talks Thursday

calexander@newsobserver.comAugust 22, 2012 

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association executive director Don Fehr were scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon in Toronto to resume collective bargaining talks.

Instead, Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly met for two hours with Fehr and Fehr’s brother, Steve, on Wednesday morning. The afternoon negotiating session at the NHLPA offices was canceled.

Don Fehr told reporters afterward the change in plans was not significant, that it was prearranged and that procedural issues were discussed. He said the two sides are scheduled to meet Thursday to talk about the core economic issues and player contracts as they seek to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.

Fehr said he would not characterize how much progress – if any – was made Wednesday.

“You can probably observe there’s some degree of frustration going on between the parties, but that doesn’t surprise anybody,” he said.

The CBA expires Sept. 15, and Bettman has said the players will be locked out if an agreement has not been reached. Fehr, after conducting a players meeting Tuesday in Kelowna, B.C., said there still was much work to be done.

"The gulf that separates us is triggered essentially by the owners’ position that the players have to make enormous concessions, far more than they did last time – and what they did last time was stunningly large," Fehr told the media.

A stalemate in CBA negotiations in 2004 resulted in a lockout and then cancellation of the 2004-2005 NHL season, and the players eventually conceded to a salary cap and a significant salary rollback. The league, in the new CBA talks, are requesting the players’ share of annual hockey-related revenue be reduced from 57 percent to 43 percent.

The players have proposed taking smaller salary increases the next three years – 2 percent, then 4- and 6-percent – with an option to revert back to the 57-percent share in a fourth year if NHL revenues continue to grow.

The league and union also differ on revenue-sharing proposals, although Fehr said Tuesday he was hopeful the two sides could “find more common ground” on that issue.

Fehr was hired as executive director of the NHLPA in December 2010. Steve Fehr is an NHLPA adviser who has served as special counsel to the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).

Don Fehr has held two player meetings in Europe, followed by meetings in Chicago and Kelowna. He said he would have another in Toronto this week.

Fehr said the CBA sessions would move to New York next week and be held at the league offices.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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