NHLPA waits on information requests

NEW YORK -- The NHL and NHL Players' Association split into small group meetings during Day 2 of labor talks Wednesday to discuss players' pensions and benefits, as well as health and safety issues, although a counterproposal from the NHLPA does not appear imminent because of the information requests to the league that are pending.

Although "non-core economic issues" dominated Wednesday's bargaining session at league offices in midtown Manhattan, the major point of contention moving forward will be the financial issues that surfaced in the league's first formal proposal submitted July 13.

The Players' Association still has not received all the financial documentation -- primarily the independently audited information for the league's clubs -- requested from the NHL and has no intent to submit a proposal until that information is received and then analyzed.

"The information that we're getting now is independently audited statements," said former player Mathieu Schneider, who is special assistant to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. "What we got was the first drop -- I think it was 76,000 pages. They're asking for huge concessions ... $450 million from players. We certainly feel the audited statements are very important to what will eventually be our alternate proposal."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman seemed to express frustration after Tuesday's meeting when he questioned whether the NHLPA's requests were "relevant."

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league's frustration stems from the implication there was a discrepancy between the information readily available to the Players' Association and the supplementary documentation requested.

"I think the sooner we can get a negotiation over the main financial issues, the better," he said. "And certainly we encourage the Players' Association to get their arms around that and get back on those issues as quickly as they can, but I think it was more a frustration with the perception that somehow the information is different or new than what the Players' Association has access to already and had access to for a long time. I don't think there's a real mystery, at least vis-a-vis the Players' Association, with respect to the financial condition of our clubs."

Daly said the NHLPA has four requests outstanding while the league has two requests pending, although he declined to describe what those entailed.

Los Angeles Kings forward Kevin Westgarth, one of the most active members of the negotiating committee, defended the Players' Association's efforts at due diligence, citing the massive rollbacks as a need for thorough analysis.

"For us to give back 24 percent of our salary, if your boss came to you and said that, I don't think you'd do that without asking to see his books," Westgarth said. "So, to me, it's not unreasonable."

Although the current collective bargaining agreement, reached after a lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season, is set to expire Sept. 15, the Players' Association is not treating that as a hard deadline.

Westgarth said the players are hoping to avoid another lockout.

"I think everybody has a little post-traumatic stress from last time. It's something that ... they locked us out last time and it's foreseeable for them to lock us out again," Westgarth said. "Guys obviously want to play, but obviously we need to get the right deal together as well."

Although it appears the NHL is leaning toward a lockout, Daly conceded this is not a necessary mode of action.

"As a legal matter, we can still play, yes," Daly said. "There are certain provisions that fall out of the CBA upon expiration, including no-strike and no-lockout provisions, so as of that point in time the situation is not entirely the same. The status quo has changed. We'll have to deal with that if and when we get there, but I think the goal and objective of hopefully both sides is that we don't get to that point."

Fehr was absent from Wednesday's meetings -- he flew to Russia after Tuesday's discussions to brief a contingent of the league's European players on the progress of negotiations, which began six weeks ago.

Health and safety discussions centered on each team's medical staff and second-opinion doctors. Pensions and benefits for retired players were also a focal point among the other small group.