The NHL and NHL Players’ Association resume bargaining Tuesday in New York City after a marathon session between Steve Fehr and Bill Daly over the weekend that produced a little traction.
Cautious optimism were the two words most spoken in the hockey world Monday.
"I think every time there is a layoff where there’s no talks and then talks resume, there’s always optimism in the air,” New York Rangers goalie Martin Biron, a member of the NHLPA’s negotiating committee, told ESPN.com on Monday. "Obviously, everybody is cautiously optimistic with some of the exchanges that Steve and Bill had, even though it was more brainstorming than anything concrete. But to be able to schedule some meetings and get larger groups involved again is going to be a good thing. Still, as with every case in the last little while when people got too optimistic, it’s just part of the process and we’ll see where it goes."
Fact is, this thing can still go all kinds of directions; it’s still in a very, very delicate state. It might produce more progress and lead to consecutive days of bargaining and ultimately a new CBA, but the two sides could just as easily clash again on key issues and the whole thing goes sideways.
Biron was set to fly to New York from Buffalo on Monday night.
The key development over the past week was word that the NHL was willing to fund a portion of the "make-whole" provision, language introduced in the league’s last official proposal that sees existing players’ contracts honored -- a huge issue for players in this negotiation. Whereas the league’s last proposal saw players pay other players under make-whole in deferred payments, the league is now showing a willingness to fork up money to pay for a chunk of it. That was certainly part of Saturday's discussion between Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, and Steve Fehr, the NHLPA’s No. 2 man and outside counsel.
Thing is, the players still want to know more about the league’s new approach to make-whole before getting too excited.
"That’s the thing, there’s not much detail to it right now," Biron said. "It’s still more of a concept right now, more than anything. It was a general conversation [between Daly and Steve Fehr]. The make-whole also isn’t the only thing that needs to be discussed, either. There are a lot of things like player contracting rights that are still there to be discussed and are still big items on the table. I think everybody is talking about the make-whole provision, but there’s a lot more than that as players that we want to talk about as well."
Biron was part of Sunday’s NHLPA internal call with the negotiating committee and again Monday afternoon when the negotiating committee plus the executive board had a larger call.
Biron said those calls are important platforms for NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr.
"Don is there to give us recommendations and lay some options in front of us, but he also sits and listens and answers every question," Biron said. "The more players that speak up, the better it is for Don to see what the pulse of the players is, and he’s really good at doing that."
Next week is Hockey Hall of Fame induction weekend in Toronto, which over the past few years has also meant the league’s 30 GMs gather right after, also in Toronto.
Not so this year. There was some internal debate at the league office about the merits of having 30 GMs get together during the lockout and being able to focus on the game without worry about the wins and losses that normally pre-occupy the GMs’ thoughts in a normal season.
In the end, however, the decision was to not hold the GMs meeting while there was still no hockey.
For now, there’s nothing scheduled, although my sense is that if and when there is hockey this year, the 30 GMs might meet fairly early in the shortened season, not only for the usual reasons but perhaps also to get help from the league’s head office to wrap their minds around the new CBA.