NHL, players discuss contracts

Quarreling sides hold another secretive meeting in New York

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 8, 2012 

Until a few weeks ago, the phrase “make whole” was not a part of the NHL’s collective bargaining dialogue or discussions.

Now, it could be the key to saving the NHL season.

After a seven-hour CBA bargaining session on Tuesday, the NHL and NHL Players Association met again Wednesday at an undisclosed location in New York. While no details about the meeting were made public, it’s believed the “make whole” provision of the league’s most recent CBA proposal was the crux of the talks.

The players, who have been locked out by the league since the previous CBA expired Sept. 15, have insisted that all existing contracts be honored under a new CBA. The NHL, in a proposal made to the union Oct. 16, said it would “make whole” the contracts though a deferred compensation plan.

The players objected, saying the money for the deferred payments would come from their future shares of hockey-related revenue (HRR). They wanted the league to absorb a large part of that financial liability, and there appeared to be some willingness for the NHL to do it out of the league’s HRR share.

The players received 57 percent of HRR last season – roughly $1.88 billion – under the terms of the old CBA. That share is expected to be reduced to 50 percent in any form of a new CBA, possibly in the next season.

Neither NHL commissioner Gary Bettman nor NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr were made available to the media after Tuesday’s talks and there were no plans for any updates or comments on Wednesday’s meeting.

The meeting Wednesday was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. but was pushed back a few hours. The two sides met Tuesday from the mid-afternoon to 10 p.m.

Until Saturday, the two sides had not met since Oct. 18, when the league quickly rejected three CBA proposals by the union. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr held a series of lengthy meetings Saturday, also in secrecy.

Other issues discussed in the CBA talks include revenue sharing, contract lengths, front-loaded contracts, arbitration and free agency.

The NHL has canceled all games through November and the 2013 Winter Classic. In 2004, CBA issues led to the cancellation of the 2004-2005 season.

There also could be some external pressure being applied to the CBA talks.

The Canadian Press reported that Peter Swinburn, CEO of Molson Coors, said the lockout has hurt sales of Molson Canadian and Coors Light beer in Canada. Swinburn said the beer company, which signed a seven-year deal with the NHL in February 2011, would seek compensation from the league once the lockout ends.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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