The last 20 weeks have been prologue. The final act in the NHL lockout of 2012 has begun.
In an attempt to end the lockout, now in its 90th day, the NHL and the NHLPA reconvened labor talks Wednesday in an undisclosed location, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed in emails to Metro. Daly also said that the sides will be joined by federal mediators.
Through its Twitter feed, the NHLPA announced Craig Adams, Adrian Aucoin, Brad Boyes, Chris Campoli, Mathieu Darche, Shane Doan, Ron Hainsey, Jamal Mayers, Andy McDonald, Steve Montador, Brendan Morrison, Douglas Murray and Daniel Winnik attended Wednesday’s session, along with NHLPA officials. According to reports, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Daly represented the league.
The session was the first formal meeting since talks collapsed last Thursday. Subsequently, the league released a ceremonial announcement Monday afternoon on the cancellation of games through Dec. 30. The statement noted the league has lost “526 regular season games — 42.8 percent of the season” — dating back to Oct. 11.
Should the sides be able to reach an agreement, there will be an abbreviated season similar to the 48-game campaign in 1994-95.
“Something needs to happen,” former Ranger and current Canadien Brandon Prust told Metro in a phone conversation. Prust is in Phoenix skating with a number of players including Doan and Darcy Hordichuk. “We’re close. If we want to salvage the season something’s got to be done.
“[This is the] closest we’ve ever been.”
The remaining issues between the sides are the league’s insistence on five-year max contracts for free agents (seven-year max for teams re-signing their own free agents) analogous to the NBA’s free-agency system, lowering the salary cap and a 10-year CBA.
The league has argued the preponderance of long-term deals such as the 14-year, $110 million contract Shea Weber signed with Nashville this past summer have caused franchises financial distress.
However, a high-profile agent explained that the long-term contracts “arose from [an] artificially suppressed system. [Executives are going to] get around it— teams want to. That’s what you’re dealing with.”
Even if the league gets its way on the free agency rules, the agent predicted the new CBA “will not dissuade teams from making deals beneficial to [the] clubs and players.”
Clearly, the league will not equal the $3.3 billion in revenues it earned last year in an abbreviated season, and it seems unlikely they will reach that level in 2013-14. The NHL will also have to satiate sponsors, who have lost money over the course of the lockout.
Then there is the troubling issue of undisguised anger between the players and the owners.
Throughout the course of the lockout, the league has made no secret of its unhappiness with NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr, most notably having owners Ron Burkle (Pittsburgh Penguins), Mark Chipman (Winnipeg Jets), Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jeff Vinik (Tampa Bay Lightning) doubt in a statement released to the media and later posted on NHL.com.
The players have responded by criticizing Bettman and the owners, specifically Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs, Minnesota’s Craig Leopold and Washington’s Ted Leonsis, who are on the league’s negotiating committee. Boston, Minnesota and Washington were among the league’s highest spenders during free agency prior to the Sept. 15 lockout deadline.
“We weren’t aware the owners were shopping at 25-percent discount,” Prust said when asked about the owners’ tactics. “It’s dishonorable, disrespectful. We’re grateful [to play hockey and make] the money we do, [but] I don’t know if I’d sign in Boston.
“[The frustrating part is] that’s only a few owners. We want to play hockey. We’re willing to give a lot back. I don’t want to be here. I want to be playing hockey.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.