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Trying to talk their way out of it

Owners, union finally getting to meat of labour matters

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NEW YORK -- They're taking their time, but the NHL and NHLPA are finally getting into the meat of negotiations -- revenue sharing and the much-discussed "make-whole" provision.

Slow and unpredictable was how one insider described Wednesday's five-and-half hour session. Progress may be difficult to discern but the sides have agreed to meet again today, setting a record for consecutive sessions in this lockout at three.

For the second straight day at an undisclosed location in Manhattan, negotiating teams including NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Don Fehr sat across from one another and bargained.

Once again there was no media availability, as the league and union have determined they're better off focusing their energies on bargaining rather than playing the public relations game.

"The NHLPA and the NHL met today to discuss many of the key issues. We look forward to resuming talks tomorrow," was all Fehr had to say after talks finished for the day.

League Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly was equally tight-lipped saying "The National Hockey League's negotiating committee met with representatives of the National Hockey League Players' Association for approximately 5-1/2 hours today. Meetings are scheduled to resume tomorrow. We do not intend to comment on the substance or subject matter of today's negotiations."

Fine. The lockout isn't a spectator sport. Getting a deal is all that counts.

After meeting for barely more than a few hours all summer, the last two days have seen the parties in the same room for a total of 13 hours.

No, there hasn't been a pronouncement of rapid movement. But they finally have shovels in their hands, rather than megaphones.

Really, we've all heard enough of the nattering. It's been childish at its worst and counter-productive at its best. All the Twitter talk and snarky sound bites have done nothing to move this process along.

Wednesday may have been Day 53 of the lockout but it was only Day 2 of negotiations.

With neither side talking much after the meeting stretched well into the night, fresh information was difficult to cull. There were, however, a few tidbits circulating.

Make-whole negotiations began on Wednesday but didn't get far. Expect today's talks to revolve around make-whole, with three likely outcomes:

The players could accept the NHL's proposal on this issue, which would likely lead to a new CBA; the two sides could agree they have a starting point to begin negotiating; or the players could deem the NHL's concept unacceptable and put talks back in a holding pattern.

The "make-whole" provision is a mechanism that will guarantee players get the bulk of the dollar amounts set out in previously signed contracts, despite their share of hockey-related revenue dropping from 57 per cent to 50.

The players want the owners to pay for this gap and not draw it out of future player revenue.

The sides appear to have also reached a soft agreement on the issue of contract lengths.

The NHL hates the long, backdiving contracts that were structured entirely to circumvent the salary cap. The accepted deterrent will be a mandated five per cent variance from year-to-year on contracts. If a player makes figure A in Year 1 of a contract it can't go up or down by more than five per cent from year to year.

So, no more making $10 million for a few years early on in the deal and then $1 million for a bunch of artificial seasons at the end of a contract.

The two sides have established their positions on issues such as age of free agency, arbitration and entry-level contracts.

Once the make-whole issue is cleared up they can circle back to contracting and use the give and take on the former to lead to concessions.

In other words, if one side gives a lot to get the make-whole process concluded, the other will be expected to provide room on the contracting issues.

It's grind time. Hockey fans understand it's not always the most exciting portion of a hockey game, but it's required to achieve victory.

Same goes here.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

JETS PLAYERS HOPEFUL / D3

A Labour Timeline

June 29: The sides begin the engagement with a meeting in New York.

July 13: NHL owners table an initial offer, which is leaked to the media and rankles a lot of NHLPA members. League asks for players' share of revenue to go from 57 to 46 per cent.

Aug. 9: NHLPA executive director Don Fehr, back from a trip to Europe to meet with players, is back in face-to-face meetings.

Aug. 14: A month after the owners' proposal, the players make their first, including a reduction in player revenues and increased revenue sharing to help money-losing teams. A day later, the NHL rejects the entire idea.

Aug. 28-29: NHL makes another offer, moderating its share-reduction demands of the players to 51.6 per cent in the first year of the deal and 50.5 per cent in the second, with no salary rollbacks. NHLPA says no.

Sept. 15: As a summer of massive free-agent signings ends, CBA signed in 2005 expires and a lockout is imposed.

Sept. 27: NHL cancels second and final wave of pre-season games.

Oct. 4: NHL cancels games through Oct. 24.

Oct. 16: NHL comes to a session with a new proposal -- a 50-50 split of revenues and other provisions, hoping to start a full season by Nov. 2.

Oct. 18: Back at the table in Toronto, the NHLPA counters the NHL offer with three of its own, each of which are swiftly rejected. Much rhetoric follows the hour-long meeting.

Oct. 19: NHL responds by wiping out all games through Nov. 1.

Oct. 26: After another dark week, NHL cancels all games through Nov. 30.

Oct. 30: NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly quietly proposes to NHLPA No. 2 Steve Fehr a way that the league might move on the "make whole" proposal to honour all existing contracts.

Nov. 6: That Oct. 30 spark turns into new sessions in New York.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2012 $sourceSection0

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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