Sidney Crosby is ready for another kick at the can.
With the NHL and NHL Players’ Association scheduled to hold a unique collective bargaining session on Tuesday afternoon, the league’s most recognizable player travelled to New York to make himself available for the exclusive meeting.
Crosby has been involved throughout the negotiations and could play an important role with the leaders of both sides scheduled to sit out on Tuesday. The Penguins captain has emerged as a voice of reason during the lockout and would find himself sitting across from Pittsburgh owner Ron Burkle, among others, if the NHLPA decides to send him into the bargaining room.
It promises to be a unique setting, particularly with commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr on the sidelines. There was hope Monday that a new dynamic might produce some different results in negotiations.
“Ultimately, we are just trying to find some meeting format that can gain some traction,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.
There should be plenty of urgency from both sides. Players have missed four paycheques because of the lockout and the NHLPA’s executive board voted over the weekend to distribute a $10,000 stipend to each member.
Meantime, league owners will head into Wednesday’s board of governors meeting facing a potential discussion about when the latest possible date should be to reach an agreement that would save a shortened season. There is also the strong possibility of more game cancellations by the end of the week.
The NHL and NHLPA took part in two unsuccessful days of meetings with U.S. federal mediators last week before Bettman floated the idea of removing himself and Fehr from talks. The merits of the idea were heavily debated by players and the NHLPA insisted on the need for a handful of staff and lawyers to be present before agreeing to it.
Despite that, it was far from universally accepted.
“I don’t entirely agree with leaving the heads of negotiation out of this because they are paid to make a deal,” Sabres goalie Ryan Miller told the Buffalo News on Monday. “But if it gets more owners involved then so be it.”
Daly and Steve Fehr, the NHLPA’s special counsel, are expected to be the highest-ranking officials in the room. The NHL will also be represented by six owners: Burkle, Mark Chipman (Winnipeg), Murray Edwards (Calgary), Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto), Jeff Vinik (Tampa Bay) and Jeremy Jacobs (Boston).
The NHLPA won’t reveal its roster until Tuesday.
Crosby, Miller, Jonathan Toews, Marty St. Louis and Kevin Westgarth were among a large group of players expected to be in New York, with the union set to make a late decision on its six representatives.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario that would see Crosby left out of the meeting. After missing significant parts of the last two seasons because of concussion and neck problems, the 25-year-old is now missing another chunk of his prime due to the labour dispute.
He attended two sessions in Toronto when the union tabled offers and was among the nearly 300 players to convene in New York for a meeting just before the lockout began in September.
Otherwise, Crosby has spent the majority of his time skating at a rink in suburban Pittsburgh, where he’s been candid in his responses to questions from reporters. Unlike some other players, he’s largely resisted taking shots at the league and continually put the onus on both sides to find a compromise.
“I think there’s a deal to be made and I think negotiations have to go better if there’s going to be a deal,” Crosby said last month. “If it keeps going like this, I mean, everybody’s going to lose.
“There’s no way around it, everybody’s going to lose.”
Money remains the biggest issue in negotiations.
Even though both sides have proposed a 50-50 split of revenues, 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.
So far, the league and union and have tried meeting in big groups, small groups and with mediators. Nothing has produced a breakthrough. On Tuesday afternoon, they’ll attempt to change that with some new faces in the room—and a few familiar ones kept out of it.
“The (meeting) should facilitate dialogue between players and owners,” Donald Fehr said Sunday in a statement. “There will be owners attending this meeting who have not previously done so, which is encouraging and which we welcome.
“We hope that this meeting will be constructive and lead to a dialogue that will help us find a way to reach an agreement.”