NEW YORK, N.Y. – Finally, some optimism.
A marathon day of collective bargaining meetings between NHL owners and players wrapped up with a sight not previously seen during the 12-week lockout — deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr standing beside one another at a podium talking about the progress made during negotiations.
“In some ways I’d say it might be the best day we’ve had, which isn’t too overly optimistic of a picture — there’s still a lot of work to do and a lot to be done,” Fehr said after the sides broke just before midnight on Tuesday. “We will be back at it tomorrow morning.”
The league and union were expected to return to the bargaining table around 9 a.m. on Wednesday, a couple hours before the start of a board of governors meeting. Daly said the event with NHL owners would go ahead as planned.
With commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr excusing themselves from the bargaining table, players and owners engaged in a stirring round of negotiations. Different variations of the group shuffled between rooms for more than eight hours at a midtown Manhattan hotel while whispers of optimism circulated through the hallways.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was among the 18 players who sat across from six team owners, including Pittsburgh’s Ron Burkle, and those two were said to be strong voices in the room, according to sources.
“Sid’s a team guy,” said one source close to Crosby. “He’s about the game.”
Even though Bettman and Donald Fehr stayed out of the official sessions, they were present at the hotel and held private sessions with their constituents.
It was hoped that an altered dynamic at the bargaining table might break the stalemate in talks and it seemed to work. The atmosphere was collegial as Daly and Steve Fehr shared the podium — both looking exhausted after a long day of meetings — and the deputy commissioner went out of his way to single out the players who participated in the session.
“I appreciate the efforts of the players in particular,” said Daly. “We had 18 players in there today and six of our owners. I think everybody is working hard, I think everybody wants to get a deal done so I think that’s encouraging.
“We look forward to hopefully making more progress tomorrow.”
There appeared to be a heightened sense of urgency around negotiations with the league owners scheduled to gather Wednesday and more cancellations expected by the end of the week. All regular season games through Dec. 14, plus the Winter Classic and all-star game, have already been wiped off the schedule.
By the time talks finally broke off in the wee hours of Tuesday night, there was a glimmer of hope that a bigger announcement — a tentative deal — could be coming instead.
After months of failed stops and starts, the first sign of a true breakthrough came with fresh faces sitting at the bargaining table. Bettman tabled the idea of him and Donald Fehr stepping aside last week after the sides spent two unsuccessful days with U.S. federal mediators.
Four of the owners in attendance were taking part in their first bargaining session — Burkle, Winnipeg’s Mark Chipman, Toronto’s Larry Tanenbaum and Tampa’s Jeff Vinik — and were accompanied by Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs and Calgary’s Murray Edwards, both part of the NHL’s negotiating committee.
The players in attendance represented a cross-section of the NHLPA’s membership.
Stars like Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Miller and Brad Richards joined the likes of Ron Hainsey, Mathieu Darche and Kevin Westgarth, who have been heavily involved throughout the summer.
The same group was expected to get back to work on Wednesday. “We’re going to work hard to try and get a deal,” said Daly.
Both the league and union are believed to have made moves towards one another on Tuesday — and that will need to continue for a deal to get wrapped up.
Money has been the biggest issue the sides needed to bridge.
Even though both the league and union proposed a 50-50 split of revenues over the last month, they remain separated on payments to be made outside the system to help ease the transition from the previous deal, which saw players receive 57 per cent. The NHL has offered $211 million in deferred compensation while the union has asked for $393 million.
There are also a number of rules governing player contracts that must be worked out before a new CBA is signed.