NHL negotiations stretch through dinner hour for second straight day

NEW YORK, N.Y. – The NHL’s collective bargaining talks stretched well into the evening for the second straight day.

Top negotiators from the league and NHL Players’ Association held another long session Wednesday while snow fell on Manhattan, making it feel like hockey season. Talks wrapped up just before 9 p.m. ET and the two sides agreed to pick up the discussion again on Thursday.

The sides discussed revenue sharing early in Wednesday’s five-hour session before moving on to the “make whole” provision, which is viewed as an important hurdle to cross before reaching a new deal.

It came after a seven-hour meeting Tuesday that wrapped up after 10 p.m. and saw them focus on contract issues that will also have to be worked out before the 53-day lockout comes to an end.

Bargaining has taken on a new level of urgency this week. Privately, the sides acknowledged that these are the first meaningful back-and-forth negotiations they’ve had, something that is evidenced by the decision to keep the meetings underground and the public comments to a minimum.

When talks ended on Tuesday night, the NHLPA declined to comment while deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued a short statement saying that he would “not characterize the substance or detail of the discussions until their conclusion.”

The lengthy meetings seemed to suggest a push was on to save as much of the disrupted season as possible. Once a CBA is eventually ratified, a source indicated it would likely be 10 days before the puck could be dropped on meaningful games — a span that would see players given three days to report to their teams and seven days for training camp.

With the NHL locked in its fourth work stoppage over the past two decades, tension seems to be rising from all corners of the sport. Pockets of owners and players are believed to be exerting pressure on their leadership to get a new deal, while Molson Coors CEO Peter Swinburn, whose company is a major league sponsor, told The Canadian Press in an interview that the brewer would seek compensation from the NHL when the lockout ends.

“There will be some redress for us as a result of this,” said Swinburn. “I can’t quantify that and I don’t know because I don’t know the scale of how long the lockout is going to last.”

The lockout has clearly inflicted some short-term damage on a league that hauled in a record US$3.3-billion in revenues last season. And there remained plenty of work to be done over the bargaining table.

The sides seem to have agreed that the players’ share in revenue will drop to 50 per cent at some point during the next CBA. The union wants assurances that all of the contracts agreed to under the previous system, which saw players receive 57 per cent, will be made whole — meaning they’re paid out in full.

After agreeing to take less revenue, the NHLPA doesn’t believe it should have to offer concessions on contract issues. The league has proposed changes to unrestricted free agency, entry-level deals, arbitration and contract lengths.

Among the other important issues to be ironed out is revenue sharing, which had been on the backburner prior to being raised on Wednesday afternoon.

While refusing to make any predictions about how soon a deal might be struck, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr struck an optimistic tone on Tuesday afternoon prior to negotiations resuming for the first time since Oct. 18. He indicated it could be a start to the push for a new deal.

“The players’ view has always been that we ought to keep negotiating until we find a way to get an agreement,” said Fehr. “You sort of stay at it day by day — so it’s very good to be getting back to the table. We hope that this time it produces more progress than we’ve seen in the past and we can figure out a way to make an agreement and to get the game back on the ice as soon as possible.”

The NHL has cancelled all regular-season games through Nov. 30, along with the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.