Little progress as labor talks resume

NEW YORK -- Despite two sessions of negotiations and a private meeting between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr on Friday, no progress has been made on the core economic issues of a new bargaining agreement and the likelihood any is made this weekend appears bleak.

Although the two sides are scheduled to reconvene Saturday and Sunday, those financial issues are not expected to be addressed.

According to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the league is waiting for the union to make a move before that discussion resumes.

"We really need to hear from the Players' Association," Daly said after the second session ended Friday evening. "Again, we need some kind of sign that they're prepared to compromise their economic position."

When asked why the league felt the onus was on the union to reinitiate in the form of another proposal, Daly responded:
"I don't know how many times I have to restate it. We've made at least two significant moves, significant dollars in their direction, and they haven't moved a single dollar in our direction since Aug. 4."

NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr pointed out, however, that bargaining does not have to follow any strict format and that the union is open to discussing such issues at any time.

"Bargaining is not ping-pong. There are no rules," Fehr said. "Whenever the parties are ready to discuss that, we can do it."

The disconnect is not surprising given the events of recent weeks.

Friday was the first time the sides had substantive talks in more than two weeks. The league and union swapped proposals in the days leading up to the lockout, which went into effect Sept. 16, but to no avail.

The union is staunchly opposed to any immediate salary givebacks, whether it be through rollbacks or escrow, while the league remains adamant the players should receive a decreased share in revenue.

Without the meat and potatoes of a new deal to discuss, Friday's morning session centered around drug testing. According to NHLPA special assistant Mathieu Schneider, the union would like to see broader testing implemented in the new collective bargaining agreement.

"I don't think we have an issue with drugs and performance-enhancing drugs in our sport. I think we're looking at possibly expanding it a little bit to cover maybe the playoffs, maybe the offseason. Other than that, we're in agreement that it's not an issue in our sport."

In fact, Daly expressed frustration that the two sides spent Friday discussing such secondary items instead of the concepts that have carved a deep divide between the league and union.

"I wish we had spent the day on what we consider the more meaningful issues," Daly said, "but it is what it is."

The two sides said they will continue to meet through the weekend, but no substantive talks about the key issues are expected to surface.

The work stoppage, the NHL's second in eight years and the third of Gary Bettman's tenure as commissioner, already has forced the NHL to cancel the entire preseason. With the league's opening weekend to begin the second week of October, regular season games appear to be in jeopardy, as well.

When asked when the league will make those cancelations, Daly said:
"I'm not prepared to say."