NEW YORK, N.Y. – The NHL and NHL Players’ Association didn’t just return to the bargaining table. They stayed there for a good long time and vowed to get right back at it on Wednesday.
A seven-hour negotiating session at a secret location wrapped up at 10:15 p.m. ET on Tuesday night and ended with both sides declining to disclose the nature of discussions.
It was a potentially encouraging sign with the talks at a critical juncture. The meeting was held in a private setting to maximize the chance for progress and the only hint any was made came from the fact negotiations would spill over into another day.
“With meetings scheduled to resume Wednesday, the league will not characterize the substance or detail of the discussions until their conclusion,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement on Tuesday night.
The NHLPA also declined to comment.
Donald Fehr, the union’s executive director, met reporters before talks resumed on Tuesday afternoon and expressed a desire to see the parties start closing in on an agreement that would end the lockout.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll start bargaining and we’ll continue bargaining until we find a way to make a deal,” he said.
The sides hadn’t held a formal meeting since Oct. 18 in Toronto, when the NHL took about 10 minutes to dismiss three proposals put forward by the union.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby attended that meeting and ended up making a “last minute” decision to fly into New York for this one. He was among 13 players who joined the NHLPA contingent. A handful of team owners took part as well.
After months of public posturing and jabs between the sides in the media, the hockey world largely went silent. It seemed to speak volumes about the seriousness of negotiations.
“It’s very good to be getting back to the table,” said Fehr. “We hope that this time it produces more progress that 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 best-case scenario would seem to be a shortened schedule beginning on Dec. 1, although there remains time to drop the puck before then if a deal is reached soon. It’s expected teams will hold seven-day training camps that begin once a new CBA is ratified.
Tuesday’s negotiation session came just days after Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr held an informal meeting that spanned several hours at another secret location. It was viewed as a “productive” gathering, according to Donald Fehr, and helped set the table for formal talks to resume this week.
“Sometimes you’ve got to get together in a forum and figure out logistically how to go forward,” he said.
The biggest issue the sides have to bridge a gap on is the mechanism that would see all existing contracts honoured in full, even after the players’ overall share in revenue is reduced to 50 per cent from its current position of 57 per cent. A “make whole” provision in the NHL’s Oct. 16 offer attempted to do that, but the NHLPA didn’t like that deferred payments would count against the earning potential of future players.
The league has since indicated a willingness to see owners assume more of the liability.
In exchange, the NHL asked for changes that would see all deals capped at five years, entry-level contracts reduced to two years from three and unrestricted free agency beginning at age 28 or after eight years of service, among other things. None of those held much appeal for the union.
The 52-day NHL lockout has already prompted the league to cancel 327 regular-season games, including the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.
While the latest round of negotiations began with a hint of optimism in the air, Fehr was careful not to offer any predictions about how they might go.
“I’m not going to comment on signs, I’m not going to prognosticate, I’m not going to predict,” he said. “It’s not something which in my experience is a productive thing to do. We’ll just wait.”