New group of NHL owners, players will try to break the ice

Different group will try to reach accord

calexander@newsobserver.comDecember 4, 2012 

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The Los Angeles Kings' Kevin Westgarth, left, chats with the Carolina Hurricanes Cam Ward as some Canes 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.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com

The National Hockey League will try a new form of collective bargaining Tuesday in New York.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman won’t be in the room. Neither will NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr.

Six NHL owners are invited to attend. A small group of players will be representing the union. Together they hope to find some common ground that can help end the stalemate in labor negotiations.

“There will be some owners who have not been there in the (negotiating) meetings and maybe that can help us get something done,” Carolina Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen said Monday. “Obviously every time there’s a meeting you kind of get your hopes up that something good will happen. In the situation we’re in we need to try pretty much anything to get some new ideas to try and somehow get the deal done and hockey back.”

The owners at the 2 p.m. meeting will be Jeremy Jacobs (Boston Bruins), Ron Burkle (Pittsburgh Penguins), Jeff Vinik (Tampa Bay Lightning), Murray Edwards (Calgary Flames), Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Mark Chipman (Winnipeg Jets).

Jacobs and Edwards have been a part of negotiating sessions. For the other four owners, this will be their first time in the room.

Several players are expected to be in New York, including Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby. The NHLPA said the players will decide Tuesday morning on the group to meet with the owners.

“I think we have to go into it with some optimism,” said Los Angeles Kings forward Kevin Westgarth, who has served on the players’ negotiating committee. “The whole time we’ve tried to negotiate this deal we’ve gone at it in hopes that a deal can get done. The sooner, obviously, the better.

“We’re far further along (in the lockout) than I thought we’d be. The fact it’s December and we’re not on the ice is ridiculous. Hopefully we can garner some good will and make sure the owners understand our point of view and we understand theirs, and we can go forward.”

The NHL board of governors meets Wednesday in New York.

If the Tuesday confab of owners is not productive, the 2012-13 season will move another step closer to being canceled.

Westgarth, who lives in Raleigh in the offseason, said it could help to have new voices in the room – an owner such as Burkle, who has a reputation for being more receptive to the players’ position than Jacobs, considered a hard-liner.

“I think that’s important,” Westgarth said. “We’ve gotten to something of a stalemate with those who are involved currently. It doesn’t matter how it’s done. The goal is to get a deal that’s fair and equitable.”

The NHL players have been locked out since Sept. 15, when the collective bargaining agreement expired. All regular-season games through Dec. 14 – as well as the 2013 Winter Classic and All-Star Weekend – have been canceled.

The league wants a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue and has proposed a “make whole” provision to honor existing player contracts through deferred compensation.

The union wants the league to pay more than $211 million from its HRR share in making whole the contracts, and there are contracting issues to be resolved.

“We’re not trying to leave any legacy,” Westgarth said. “We’re not getting anything out of this contract – they’re all concessions going in the owners’ direction.”

Last week, the NHL and NHLPA invited in federal mediators.

That didn’t help. Bettman then proposed the players/owners meeting.

Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison said without Fehr and Bettman in the room, “I wouldn’t expect anything more than dialogue. Hopefully some ideas. ... If it’s an attempt in any way for (the owners) to try and make us see it their way again, they may not be happy with what they hear.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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