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NHL Capsules: No full talks in labor fight

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Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2013 9:00 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Any momentum gained from a long night of negotiations between the NHL and the players' association seemed to have been lost Thursday when the sides remained mostly apart.

A meeting that Commissioner Gary Bettman said would begin at 10 a.m. EST didn't start until several hours later, and then ended quickly.

That one hour of talks centered on the reporting of hockey-related revenues by teams, and both sides signing off on the figures at the end of the fiscal year. The problem was resolved.

An NHL spokesman announced shortly before 9 p.m. that federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh was still working with the sides, but they would not get back to the bargaining table before Friday morning.

The players' association didn't immediately comment.

The key issues that are still threatening the hockey season weren't addressed early in the day, but a small group of players and other union staff returned to the NHL office shortly before 6 p.m., to hold another meeting regarding the contentious pension plan. That wrapped up about two hours later.

Union head Donald Fehr didn't take part in either of the two sessions Thursday.

The players' association held a conference call at 5 p.m. to discuss starting another vote among union membership that would give the executive board the power to invoke a disclaimer of interest and dissolve the union.

Members gave overwhelmingly approval last month, but the union declined to disclaim before a self-imposed deadline Wednesday night. It wasn't immediately known when a new authorization would expire. Players are expected to have 48 hours to vote, as opposed to the five days they were given the first time.

With the lockout in its 110th day, both sides understand the urgency to save a shortened season. They have several key issues to work out — pensions and salary cap limits, among them.

Bettman has said a deal needs to be in place by next week so a 48-game season can begin Jan. 19. All games through Jan. 14 along with the All-Star game have been canceled, claiming more than 50 percent of the original schedule.

The sides met in small groups throughout the day Wednesday. They held a full bargaining session with a federal mediator at night that lasted nearly five hours and ended about 1 a.m. Thursday.

The biggest detail to emerge was that Fehr remained as union executive director after players passed on their first chance to declare a disclaimer that would turn the union into a trade association. The disclaimer would allow individual players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NHL.

Fehr wouldn't address the issue Wednesday, calling it an "internal matter," but added that the players were keeping all options open.

"The word disclaimer has yet to be uttered to us by the players' association," Bettman said Wednesday. "It's not that it gets filed anywhere with a court or the NLRB. When you disclaim interest as a union, you notify the other side. We have not been notified and it's never been discussed, so there has been no disclaimer."

It was believed the union wouldn't take action Wednesday if it saw progress being made. Neither side would characterize the talks or say if there was any movement toward common ground.

"There's been some progress but we're still apart on a number of issues," Bettman said. "As long as the process continues I am hopeful."

In a related move, the NHLPA filed a motion in federal court in New York on Thursday seeking to dismiss the league's suit to have the lockout declared legal. The NHL sued the union in mid-December, figuring the players were about to submit their own complaint against the league and possibly break up their union to gain an upper hand.

But the union argued that the NHL is using this suit "to force the players to remain in a union. Not only is it virtually unheard of for an employer to insist on the unionization of its employees, it is also directly contradicted by the rights guaranteed to employees under ... the National Labor Relations Act."

The court scheduled a status conference for the sides on Monday morning.

That still gives them time to get back to the table to try to reach a deal. There won't be one, however, if they don't resolve the differences regarding the players' pension.

Bettman called the pension plan a "very complicated issue."

"The number of variables and the number of issues that have to be addressed by people who carry the title actuary or pension lawyer are pretty numerous and it's pretty easy to get off track," Bettman said. "That is something we understand is important to the players."

The union's proposal Wednesday makes four offers between the sides since the NHL restarted negotiations Thursday with a proposal. The league presented the players with a counteroffer Tuesday night in response to one the union made Monday.

Fehr believed an agreement on a players-funded pension had been reached before talks blew up in early December. That apparently wasn't the case, or the NHL has changed its offer regarding the pension in exchange for agreeing to other things the union wanted.

The salary-cap number for the second year of the deal — the 2013-14 season — hasn't been established, and it is another point of contention. The league is pushing for a $60 million cap, while the union wants it to be $65 million.

In return for the higher cap number players would be willing to forgo a cap on escrow.

"We talk about lots of things and we even had some philosophical discussions about why particular issues were important to each of us," Bettman said. "That is part of the process."

The NHL proposed in its first offer Thursday that pension contributions come out of the players' share of revenues, and $50 million of the league's make-whole payment of $300 million will be allocated and set aside to fund potential underfunding liabilities of the plan at the end of the collective bargaining agreement.

Last month, the NHL agreed to raise its make-whole offer of deferred payments from $211 million to $300 million as part of a proposed package that required the union to agree on three nonnegotiable points. Instead, the union accepted the raise in funds, but then made counterproposals on the issues the league stated had no wiggle room.

"As you might expect, the differences between us relate to the core economic issues which don't involve the share," Fehr said of hockey-related revenue, which likely will be split 50-50.

The NHL is the only North American professional sports league to cancel a season because of a labor dispute, losing the 2004-05 campaign to a lockout. A 48-game season was played in 1995 after a lockout stretched into January.

A daily look at the NHL lockout

DATE: Thursday, Jan. 3.

DAY: 110.

LAST NEGOTIATIONS: Jan. 3 at NHL headquarters in New York.

NEXT NEGOTIATIONS: Friday at NHL office.

GAMES LOST: 625 (all games through Jan. 14, including New Year's Day Winter Classic, and All-Star weekend).

DISJOINTED THURSDAY: The NHL and players' association spent most of Thursday apart after talks Wednesday lasted until 1 a.m. EST. A small group session dealing with hockey-related revenue resolved an issue that had cropped up. There was also a scaled-down meeting that focused on the contentious pension plan that was held Thursday night for a little less than two hours. Union executive director Donald Fehr didn't participate in either meeting. Most of the day was filled with uncertainty whether the sides would meet for a full bargaining session that never took place. The NHLPA also filed a motion in federal court in New York seeking to dismiss the league's suit to have the lockout declared legal. The NHL sued the union in mid-December, figuring the players were about to submit their own complaint against the league and possibly break up their union to gain an upper hand. The court scheduled a status conference for the sides on Monday morning. The players also began another vote that could restore authorization to the executive board to declare a disclaimer of interest that would dissolve the union. A previous authorization expired Wednesday night without the union taking action.

WHAT WE MISSED: A seven-game slate was lost Thursday, including a matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Kings in Los Angeles. Both teams joined the NHL as expansion franchises when the league doubled in size from six clubs to 12 for the 1967-68 season. The Flyers won Stanley Cup titles 1974 and 1975 and have reached the finals eight times. The Kings earned their lone championship last season in their second trip to the finals.

ON THIS DAY LAST YEAR: NHL linesman Steve Miller was forced to leave a game between the Detroit Red Wings and Stars in Dallas because of concussion-like symptoms. Miller hit his head in the first period when he accidentally collided with Stars defenseman Mark Fistric. Miller left the ice and was treated by Stars medical personnel, who ruled him out for the rest of the game.

Other NHL News

Penguins in prime position whenever lockout ends

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sidney Crosby's been down the road too many times during the NHL's seemingly interminable lockout to get too optimistic about the latest — and perhaps last — round of negotiations.

Yet the Pittsburgh Penguins star knows eventually his team will get back to work. If it's sometime later this month, the normal 82-game regular season would turn into a 48-game dash, one that would seem to favor clubs like the Penguins.

Pittsburgh did little to overhaul its roster during the offseason, believing the core that fell to Philadelphia in the opening round of last spring's playoffs remains strong enough to compete for a Stanley Cup.

Other than the addition of center Brandon Sutter — acquired in a draft day trade that sent Jordan Staal to Carolina — the Penguins believe there will be little if any "getting to know you" time whenever the puck drops.

"We can look at that as a positive for sure," Crosby said. "Guys understand their roles and what they need to do and there's trust there. Maybe with some newer guys you have to develop that a little bit more but yeah I would say it can't hurt and it certainly helps a little bit to have that familiarity there."

While some Penguins, notably reigning MVP Evgeni Malkin, travelled overseas to cash a paycheck during the lockout, Crosby has been leading a handful of teammates onto the ice for drills four days a week. Thursday he lined up alongside normal linemates Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis for a little 4-on-4, placing the puck on top of his head then dropping it to the ice for face-offs in place of a linesman.

The hour-long session didn't quite match the intensity of a game, but there are also few places in the league that have shown as much solidarity during the four-month-old lockout. The Penguins believe that can only pay off when things get going for real.

"I think that that's definitely an advantage," defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "I think we're going to find out (when the lockout ends) which teams took it seriously the last couple months (and) who decided to go on vacation."

Something there's been very little of in Pittsburgh. Crosby has basically lost two years of his prime while dealing with concussion-like symptoms and now a work stoppage. He never really got back up to full speed last year, scoring only eight times in 29 regular-season games. He picked it up in the playoffs, notching three goals in a wild six-game series with the Flyers.

Now healthy — and with a new contract that will keep him in Pittsburgh until his late-30s — Crosby is eager to etch his legacy in stone. Having familiar faces to work with in what could be something akin to the 1994-95 season that was limited to just 48 games could help him get off to a quick start.

Crosby has talked with Pittsburgh player development coach Bill Guerin about what it takes to navigate such a busy schedule. Guerin was part of the New Jersey Devils team that hoisted the Cup in 1995 after a three-month sprint.

The lesson Guerin imparted was simple: don't mess around.

"You don't have time to drop a bunch of games, it's pretty hard to catch up," Crosby said. "I think you have to be ready to find a way as best you can. Every team is kind of in the same situation trying to get ready quick but you really have to be as close to your best right away. Usually you have a whole season to find your identity. I think you have to find it a little bit quicker in a shorter season."

It's something the Penguins believe they can do provided they stay healthy. If anything, the lockout has provided the players who stuck close to Pittsburgh pretty good at running their own practices.

Forward Joe Vitale joked there's no need for coach Dan Bylsma to show up once things return to normal.

"If he can keep doing what he's doing, that'd be great," Vitale said with a laugh.

He's kidding. The well-liked Bylsma is one of the main reasons the Penguins have been among the most stable franchises in a league that sometimes struggles to find its footing. That shouldn't be a problem in Pittsburgh, which hopes a quick start will lead to an even better finish.

"Playing with the same guys for the most part, there's a comfort zone," Vitale said. "You can read off each other well, so there's not really as many growing pains."

-- Will Graves

Vanderbeek takes over sole control of Devils

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Jeff Vanderbeek has taken over sole control of the New Jersey Devils and refinanced the team's debt.

The Devils announced the deal on Thursday as the NHL and its players worked to reach an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement to save the season.

The Devils said that CIT Group was the lead agency in handling the refinancing. In conjunction with the deal, the minority owners, Brick City Hockey and its related entities, no longer have a stake in the team.

Vanderbeek was close to refinancing the nearly $80 million in debt during the playoffs last season. The team's run to the Stanley Cup final — where it lost to Los Angeles in six games — generated roughly $32 million in revenues and Vanderbeek's financial footing also improved with the Prudential Center emerging as one of the country's top revenue-producing facilities in recent years.

"Today's announcement is good news for Devils fans though I fully recognize fans' frustration with the work stoppage," Vanderbeek said in a statement. "Our future is now secure and we can be confident of continued on-ice success. Our team has gone to the Stanley Cup final five times in the last 17 years and following the most recent run to the final last year, we are excited about our future — for Jersey's team and the Prudential Center, home to the 2013 NHL Draft."

Vanderbeek thanked Mike Gilfillan, who owned and ran Brick City Hockey LLC, which had a minority interest the team.

"Together, we shared a passion that led to the building of the Prudential Center — truly a shining jewel of a facility and in my view, one of the best arenas in the entire world," Vanderbeek said. "The Rock is a great legacy for which we will always be proud."

Gilfillan said Brick City's involvement with the Devils was to make pro sports a catalyst for economic development in downtown Newark, along with staging events for concerts and family shows to complement performances in the nearby New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

"Our goal to stimulate and facilitate that growth has been achieved," Gilfillan said in a statement, "and is obvious to everyone, given how much development has occurred near the Prudential Center and the Performing Arts Center, from what is underway, and is to come."

The NHL lockout was in its 110th day Thursday, and both sides understand the urgency to save a shortened season. They have moved closer to one another while swapping proposals, but key issues remain — pensions and salary cap, among them.

Commissioner Gary Bettman has said that the league told the union a deal needs to be in place by next week so that a 48-game season can begin Jan. 19. All games through Jan. 14 along with the All-Star game have been canceled, claiming more than 50 percent of the original schedule.

The Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003, and won additional Eastern Conference championships in 2001 and last season. The 1995 title was won after a shortened season.

-- Tom Canavan

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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