The NHL and NHL Players Association are finally talking again.
With the NHL lockout nearly two weeks old and all preseason games now canceled, the league and union resumed labor negotiations Friday. The two sides discussed such non-economic issues as drug testing and player safety, and more meetings are scheduled this weekend.
The formal talks – the first since the lockout began – came as more NHL players head overseas or to American Hockey League preseason training camps. The Charlotte Checkers, the AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, will hold their first on-ice workout Saturday in Indian Trail.
The Canes’ Jeff Skinner will not be with Checkers – at least for now. Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said Friday the 2011 Calder Trophy winner had been given the consent of the team to remain at home in Toronto and continue to train.
“The decision was made that Jeff could go to Charlotte at some point in time but not necessarily at this point in time,” Rutherford said.
Skinner was among the 28 players the Canes assigned to the Checkers on Sept. 15, the day before the NHL lockout began with no new collective bargaining agreement in place. The Hurricanes and other NHL teams made the assignments to ensure the players would be eligible for AHL play during a lockout.
Rutherford said two weeks ago Skinner, 20, would report to the Checkers’ training camp and would play in games, noting it should help in Skinner’s development.
“I should have said he could go, not that he would go,” Rutherford said Friday.
Rutherford noted Skinner’s concussion last season, which caused him to miss 16 games, was part of the decision to allow him to stay in Toronto and not report to camp.
“It didn’t make much sense for Jeff to play in preseason games, and the Checkers unfortunately play a lot of games on the road to start their season,” Rutherford said. “All of those things factored into the course we took and the mutual decision.”
In New York, the labor talks Friday were divided into morning and afternoon sessions. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was to be joined in the late-afternoon meeting by NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr.
The contentious issue of the division of hockey-related revenue (HRR) was not on Friday’s agenda. Under the old CBA, which expired Sept. 15, the players received 57 percent of HRR, which amounted to more than $1.87 billion last season. The league has proposed significant reduction in the players’ share.
Kevin Westgarth of the Los Angeles Kings has served as a player representative for the Stanley Cup champions and said he was encouraged by Friday’s talks.
“There’s always room for hope. We’re back at the negotiating table,” Westgarth said. “It’s not about the core economic issues but a lot of the peripheral things that are important to the players and hopefully we can gain some momentum. Gain some agreement on some of this stuff and roll that over into some of the bigger issues.”
Westgarth, the son-in-law of former NFL coach Bill Cowher, skated with Canes players Friday at Raleigh Center Ice. The forward said he has participated in some of the CBA negotiating sessions.
The NHL announced Thursday that all preseason exhibition games have been canceled. The regular season begins Oct. 11 and many are becoming more fearful the league could soon begin to cancel regular-season games, and then perhaps cancel the entire season.
“Nobody wants to cancel regular-season games,” Westgarth said. “That’s when these teams in these markets start losing money. Unfortunately, the way we’ve seen the NHL negotiate in the past, that’s what it’s going to take, I think.”