NHL players, owners meet without Bettman; no resolution yet

Sides talk for several hours in N.Y.; no resolution reached yet

calexander@newsobserver.comDecember 5, 2012 

They first talked for more than five hours, in groups large and small.

They took a break for dinner, then met again, looking for a way to resolve their differences and save the National Hockey League season.

Late Tuesday night, the six NHL owners and 18 players were still engaged in a collective bargaining meeting in a Manhattan hotel. As time passed, optimism began to build that a breakthrough in the stalled labor talks might have been achieved.

It was NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s request that the two groups get together – after federal mediators failed to make a difference. He would sit out the meeting, as would NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr – just players and owners in the room, in a dialogue. It was unusual, and no one was sure how long it might last or how productive it might be.

“I’m hoping we get to where we need to be,” Bettman told reporters before the meeting.

The NHL’s board of governors meets Wednesday at 11 a.m. in New York. It was not known late Tuesday night if another collective bargaining session will be held before the governors meeting.

The owners in the room Tuesday were: Ron Burkle (Pittsburgh Penguins), Murray Edwards (Calgary Flames), Jeremy Jacobs (Boston Bruins), Mark Chipman (Winnipeg Jets), Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jeff Vinik (Tampa Bay Lightning). Among the players representing the NHLPA were Penguins star Sidney Crosby, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, and Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. Another was Los Angeles Kings forward Kevin Westgarth, who lives in Raleigh in the offseason and is the son-in-law of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.

Jacobs and Edwards had been active in previous collective bargaining negotiations, but the other four owners were making their first appearance. Crosby has participated in other CBA sessions, but Miller, an outspoken type, wanted to take part in Tuesday’s meeting.

Tuesday marked the 80th day of the lockout, which began Sept. 16. Many NHL players have flooded overseas, including the Carolina Hurricanes’ Jiri Tlusty, Jussi Jokinen and Jamie McBain. The league has canceled all regular-season games through Dec. 14 and could soon chop off another block of games. The 2013 Winter Classic has been canceled. So has the 2013 All-Star Game.

The league is seeking a 50-50 split of annual hockey-related revenue (HRR) – the players were getting 57 percent in the previous CBA – while the players want all existing contracts honored and have taken issue with other concessions proposed by the league. Adding a bit of irony to Tuesday was that the meetings were held at the Westin Hotel near Times Square. It was in the Westin in February 2005 that Bettman announced that the 2004-05 season had been canceled when the league and union could not agree on a CBA.

There’s still hope if an agreement can be reached, there could be a reconfigured 2012-13 season of about 60 games.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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