Leaked Fehr memo provides insight into NHL talks

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 10, 2012 

A leaked Donald Fehr memo created the biggest stir Friday in the NHL’s collective bargaining saga.

The NHL and NHL Players Association met for a fourth straight day in New York, and again little was said afterward about the progress – or lack thereof – in the labor talks. Fehr, the NHLPA executive director, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman offered no details and it was unclear when the negotiations would resume.

Bettman said the NHL was willing to meet through the weekend, adding, “Whatever it takes.” Fehr left the meeting saying only the union had “things to consider.”

The internal memo from Fehr, sent Thursday night to the players as an update on the talks, was leaked Friday to the media. In it Fehr said in part, “We are meeting again, and while some steps are being taken, there is still a lot of work to be done and bridges to be crossed before an agreement can be made.”

Fehr’s memo said the league had made its “make whole” proposal on honoring existing contracts, calling it a step forward but saying there still remained a “significant gap.” He said the league wanted an “immediate reset” to 50-50 on the division of annual hockey-related revenue, not to phase it in over the first three years of the CBA, as the union proposed.

Fehr said the league wanted its contracting proposals to be accepted, including limiting contracts to five years and extending unrestricted free agent status to age 28 and eight years service.

“Individually each is bad for players; taken together they would significantly reduce a player’s bargaining power and give the owner much more leverage over a player for most if not all of his career,” Fehr wrote in the memo.

Carolina Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal tried to remain upbeat as the talks continued this week.

“Obviously it’s not fun to hear that there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Staal said. “I think a lot of the players are very optimistic and very happy they’re talking again and working hard ... It’s still part of the process, I guess. You can’t expect it to be done in a few days.”

It’s believed the league disputed some of Fehr’s claims during Friday’s meeting. Fehr later held a conference call with the union’s executive board and negotiation committee.

All the players can do is continue to work out, skate and try to stay informed. They hired Fehr, a tough, skilled negotiator, to do a job and are trying to remain patient.

“That’s the hardest part right now,” Staal said. “That’s why we hired Don, obviously. He’s keeping everyone on the same page and understanding that we need to be patient to get the right deal. We need to find a way to make it happen. ... Hopefully we can make a breakthrough soon.”

A breakthrough could mean a possible Dec. 1 start and perhaps a 70-game season. But that would also mean having the CBA approved in a week to 10 days, allowing time for players to return from Europe and then a week of training camp.

“I’m still optimistic,” Staal said. They’re talking and they’re moving forward. There are things we’ve wanted to talk about with (the league) for a while and they’re talking about it now. So still optimistic and still hopeful (and) excited we can get this thing started.”

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