NHLPA could work past CBA expiration
Donald Fehr neither tipped his hand, nor gave cause for alarm with the NHL collective bargaining agreement set to expire Sept. 15.
In fact, the NHLPA’s executive director left open the possibility that his union would consider working without a contract past the deadline if
meaningful negotiations are already taking place.
Fehr’s comments were made in Chicago following three days of discussion by the union’s executive board on the next CBA.
Flyers winger Scott Hartnell is among the 31 players on the newly announced negotiating committee. Throughout the months ahead, about 10 players are expected to attend every meeting.
Unlike the last negotiating sessions with then union executive director Bob Goodenow and later Ted Saskin, who openly debated issues with the media, Fehr was understated and careful in what he said, insisting that internal discussions within the union will remain that way.
For instance, Fehr would not comment on what the executive committee felt was the single biggest player priority heading into the next CBA.
Nor would he not discuss “what if” lockout scenarios. And he would not talk about what the owners are quietly already saying among themselves: that player revenue shares must be reduced from 57 percent to 51 percent.
“I'm not getting into specifics on how we might react to hypothetical proposals,” Fehr said.
Even though both the NFL and NBA got substantial givebacks on player revenue sharing in their most recent CBAs following lockouts, the NHL has already admitted a 64 percent increase in revenues since the last lockout (2004-05), making it unlikely the players will concede that much of a percentage drop.
The problem continues to be 10-12 clubs that spend to the salary cap maximum and earn strong profits, then the remainder of the league that either struggles to make ends meet or simply loses money.
Fehr also said he wasn’t concerned that he did not have an advance agenda from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman or deputy Bill Daly as to what the owners consider points of contention.
Talks between the two sides are expected to commence Friday and continue through the summer and into fall.
Fehr attended Bettman’s “Commissioner’s Address” at the Stanley Cup Final.
“He had a number of things to say there, most significant of which was that the league and the game have had a good couple of years, in particular, this year, with another year of record revenues, great TV ratings and other things …” Fehr said.
“He’s certainly right about all of that. When we approach negotiations, the object is to get a deal done and continue that momentum and continue it uninterrupted. We certainly hope to do that.”
Pertaining to working past the Sept. 15 deadline, Fehr said, “The players haven’t considered what they would do on Sept. 15 or another date if an agreement is not in place. It’s our hope that is not anything we will have to worry about.
“…when a contract expires, if there is no new agreement, and if the parties are willing to continue negotiating to try and get it, you continue to work under the terms of the old agreement until somebody is no longer willing to do that.”
Fehr said that given the league’s record revenues, TV ratings, and so forth, “all of that is good news,” and that both sides should take credit for it.
During the last CBA discussions, a great deal of distrust surrounded both sides as the lockout wore on and the entire season was lost.
Fehr was asked whether there is any angst among the players in terms of “trust” issues as the two sides prepare a new deal. The lockout left deep wounds between the players and owners.
(That said, some of the players' distrust came within the fractured union itself that began negotiations with Goodenow, finished with Saskin, and then later fired him over privacy issues with the union’s e-mail system.)
“From my standpoint, there’s two senses of trust that has to develop,” Fehr said. “The first one is, among the players and the staff, for and with one another. You gotta get that right.”
He said he spent the past 18 months meeting with players and trying to make sure both sides spoke “the same language.”
“Over time, relationships develop,” Fehr said. “This particular relationship with marrying personalities with me on one side and Gary on the other, is something that has to develop over time.
“You would hope there would be great trust. And you would hope that would flow from developing a common understanding of what the background facts are.
“Gary’s a pro, I’m a pro; we’ve been doing this a long time. I’m hopeful that won’t be an issue.”E-mail Tim Panaccio at email@example.com