Harrison on CBA talks: 'Top of hill to the bottom'

Staff writerDecember 7, 2012 

Carolina's Jay Harrison, left, talks with Cam Ward during a Carolina Hurricanes informal workout at Raleigh Center Ice Friday, September 14, 2012.

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com

Canes defenseman Jay Harrison believed the NHL and NHLPA was on the verge of an agreement on a CBA Thursday night that would end the lockout, the nightmare.

And then ...

"I was surprised by how quickly it turned around," Harrison said Friday. "It was top of the hill to the bottom."

The NHL's rejection of the union's CBA counter-proposal Thursday has everyone wondering what happens next. Harrison was one of the players who was on an hour-long conference call with NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr later Thursday night, when Fehr updated the members on the series of meetings in New York, how everything fell apart -- seemingly in a matter of minutes -- and what the next step or steps might be.

That apparently does not include collective bargaining meetings Friday or on the weekend, Harrison said. The next move, he said, would be made by the league.

"It was informational, about the nature of how things had gone," Harrison said of the players' conference call. "A lot of things had happened in the last week that the guys as a membership hadn't been privvy to.

"There was time for guys to talk about the future and what we want to do and how we want to react. The big thing you can learn from Don (Fehr) is to step back and reflect and then move forward. You kind of separate yourself from the emotion of the moment and you regroup and you decide on your best course of action."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was the emotional one Thursday night. He said Fehr had made misleading comments to the media and "spinning us all into an emotional frenzy."

A group of owners and players met Tuesday and Wednedsay in New York with Bettman and Fehr out of the room. The sessions Tuesday were said to be productive, and Bettman said he then gave a generally optimistic update to the NHL's board of governors on Wednesday morning.

The owner/player meetings resumed after the board meeting, and with growing tension as the players apparently brought up other CBA issues that the owners' side did not anticipate. The players then said they wanted Fehr again involved for Thursday's meetings, which did not set well with the owners.

"I'm kind of a little disappointing after such huge strides, with both sides reporting how pleased they were, to within 24 hours having a complete change in mood, perspective, outlook, everything," Harrison said.

The league said it is not flexible on its proposals for a 10-year CBA with an opt-out after eight years, new contract lengths of five years, and on compliance issues. An angry Bettman said Thursday night the league's proposal to use $300 million to "make whole" players contracts in deferred compensation -- now being called "transition payments" -- had been withdrawn.

The union proposed an eight-year CBA with opt-out after six years and contract lengths of eight years. That angered Bettman, who said the league had sought a yes or no answer from the union on the league's offer, not more negotiation.

"In a cap system the only leverage you have is your individual contract rights, so we hold those with great pride," Harrison said. "We feel we have addressed some of the issues they have with the contracting such as the back-diving contracts, and we've come in their direction as far as length of contract, as well.

"We've moved. We moved twice again over the past three days in their direction. To say we're not looking to make an agreement, I don't sense that."

Despite the pessimism of Thursday night, Harrison believes hockey will be played this season. It could be a 48-game season, but hockey will be played.

"I still expect to play hockey. There's still too much to be lost," he said. "I'll believe that to the day it's not."

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