The NHL and NHL Players Association again turned to secrecy Tuesday.
The league and union held the first formal collective bargaining negotiations since Oct. 18 in New York. That much is known. What wasn’t known were the specifics of the CBA talks or what progress was made.
The location of the meeting was not disclosed. Nor did NHL commissioner Gary Bettman or NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr hold press conferences after the session ended Tuesday night.
On Saturday, deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr also met at a secret location to discuss CBA issues. Neither provided details of that meeting, which lasted until late into the night, although both indicated later that it was productive.
Donald Fehr met briefly with the media before Tuesday’s CBA session. Fehr would not say how close the two sides might be to bridging what he called "the issues that divide us."
"The players’ view has always been that we ought to keep negotiating until we find a way to get an agreement and you sort of stay at it day by day, so it’s very good to be getting back to the table," Fehr told reporters. "We hope this time it produces more progress than we have seen in the past and we can figure out a way to make an agreement to get the game back on the ice as soon as possible."
Thirteen players attended Tuesday’s meeting, including Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby and Los Angeles Kings forward Kevin Westgarth, a member of the players’ negotiating committee. Westgarth, the son-in-law of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, lives in Raleigh in the offseason.
The players have been locked out since Sept. 15, when the previous CBA expired. The league has canceled all regular-season games through the end of November and the 2013 Winter Classic.
Bettman and Donald Fehr had not met since Oct. 18, when the NHLPA forwarded three CBA proposals. All provided for a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue (HRR) at some point in a five-year CBA – a key concession by the players – and the union’s third proposal called for an immediate 50-50 split if existing player contracts were honored.
The league rejected all three proposals in a matter of minutes.
The NHL had proposed on Oct. 16 a 50-50 division of revenue and a "make-whole’ provision to honor the contracts through deferred payments. That money was to come out of the players’ share of HRR in future years – or what Donald Fehr called "players paying players."
But it’s believed the league now is willing to fund the "make-whole" payments from the NHL’s share of HRR. If so, that’s a significant change – more than $200 million going to the players – and likely was a key factor in the two sides formally meeting again Tuesday.
The players received 57 percent of HRR last season under the old CBA – about $1.88 billion.