At crucial stage, NHL and players to negotiate Tuesday

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 6, 2012 


TheThe Canes' Jay Harrison, center, moves the puck as some of the Carolina Hurricanes and other NHL players practice at Raleigh Center Ice in Raleigh, NC on Oct. 19, 2012. The NHL season is still on hold as owners and players can't agree of how to split revenues.


— This could be a make or break week for the NHL and for players growing increasingly anxious about getting the season started.

The NHL and NHL Players Association will hold formal collective bargaining negotiations Tuesday in New York. It’s expected commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr will attend the CBA talks.

One of two outcomes is likely – either substantial movement toward accord on a new CBA, or a further division between the league and union over CBA issues that deepens and puts the 2012-2013 season at risk.

"At some point you can’t just keep saying they’re not going to be make-or-break weeks," Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison said Monday. "Eventually there’s going to come a tipping point.

"I think we’ve got to be getting close. We’ve bounced a lot of ideas. We’ve worded them differently but ultimately there’s a few foundational agreements that we can move towards with each other."

Harrison said he was optimistic an agreement can be struck, and soon, to end the NHL lockout and get the players back on the ice.

"If you ever had any hope of playing this year, you’ve got to feel good about this week and hope that all the hard work that has gone into negotiations to this point has been worth it," he said. "We can get going and by the time the playoffs start this will all be like a bad dream."

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr met at length Saturday – and at a secret location. Afterward, Daly indicated a formal negotiating session would be held this week, and that Donald Fehr and Bettman would be present.

"That’s what we’ve been waiting for, to get to the negotiating table and actually start a dialogue," said Los Angeles Kings forward Kevin Westgarth, a member of the players’ negotiation committee.

It’s believed the league has softened its stance on how to fund the players’ existing contracts.

Under the league’s latest CBA proposal, the NHL and players would split hockey-related revenue 50-50 and there would be a "make-whole" provision to fund contracts through deferred compensation paid out of the players’ share of revenue. But the league now may be willing to set aside part of its share of hockey-related revenue to help pay the compensation.

That, in essence, is what the union proposed to the league on Oct. 18 – the third of three NHLPA proposals quickly rejected that day by the league.

The NHL has canceled all regular-season games through the end of November, and on Friday canceled the 2013 Winter Classic, the New Year’s Day game in Ann Arbor, Mich. It is not known how much of the regular-season schedule could be rescheduled and played if a CBA were to be signed in the next week or so.

"There’s no doubt a significant chunk can get done if this gets resolved relatively quickly," Harrison said.

The meetings in New York will be held with more NHL players headed to Europe to play. Canes defenseman Jamie McBain left Monday to play in Finland. Canes forward Jussi Jokinen said he has signed a six-game contract with Karpat of the a Finnish elite league and will leave within a week.

But all eyes will be on New York the next few days. Hopeful eyes.

"I’ve reserved optimism about this week," said Westgarth, who lives in Raleigh in the offseason. "Hopefully there’s the right amount of pressure on both sides to get something done."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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