Good news from the NHL’s labor front: NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA executive director Don Fehr are talking.
Now, the bad news: They’re not talking to each other.
Daly went on a couple of Canadian radio shows Wednesday saying he thinks there will be a truncated NHL season. Fehr said that sounds just peachy; just drop your conditions, and we’ll work out a deal.
Appearing on Hockey Night In Canada Radio on Wednesday, Daly was asked point blank if there will be a season.
“Yes,” he replied.
Later in the day Daly delved deeper into that assertion on TSN Radio in Winnipeg, saying, “I tend to be more optimistic than some of the people I work with. The bottom line is – [and] my view on this has been the same from the start – there's no reason we shouldn't be playing hockey.”
“That’s good news, I’m glad to hear that,” Fehr told reporters at a charity hockey game in Toronto that included Capitals forward Wojtek Wolski. “I certainly hope he’s right. That's the players’ goal, that's what we want to try and do.
“Hopefully, we’ll get back together and negotiate out the remaining issues as soon as possible.”
Added Daly: “I’d like to think that at the end of the day that reason will prevail, and if reason prevails, we’ll play a hockey season this year.”
Therein lies the problem in these negotiations. Reason has been checked into the third row of seats and has no intention of re-joining the action.
It has been a week since representatives from the league and the players’ union have had meaningful discussions and there are a few reasons.
For one, the players are busy trying to drum up a two-thirds vote on whether they should file a disclaimer of interest that allows them to represent themselves in antitrust suits. That process should be completed on Friday.
The NHL already beat them to the punch by asking courts to deem the lockout legal and that the players’ next move constitutes unfair labor practice.
But there is more to this dispute than legalese. Plain and simple, it’s a game of chicken.
Fehr wants the owners to move off their most recent proposal, which calls for a 10-year CBA [the players would take 8]; a five-year max on player contracts [the players would take 8] and a 5 percent variance on the value of contracts from year to year [the players would accept a 25 percent variance].
The owners aren’t budging and Fehr says he’s only willing to talk with the league if it’s willing to negotiate off its last offer.
“We’ve indicated any number of times that we’re willing to resume whenever they are, without pre-conditions.”
Those pre-conditions are fancy way of saying, “Take it or leave it,” and so far the players are leaving it, figuring the longer they wait the more the owners will bend.
“We have to find a way to have discussions, because it’s very hard to come to an agreement if you’re not talking to one another,” Fehr said. ”It's very hard to come to an agreement if you set pre-conditions to the negotiations, too.”
Yes, it’s become a game of chicken. And the headlights from that train barreling down the tracks are fast approaching.