NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

If NHL strapped, why did owners go Wild?

Daly downplays seeming hypocrisy of free agent frenzy

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TORONTO -- More NHL games were cancelled by the league on Friday, making the total 135 through Nov. 1.

For those looking for signals, Friday's erasure was a very minimal response from the league after Thursday's quick and sour meeting with the NHLPA.

The week was spent with proposals from both sides and, for a change, did deal with the core economic issues that the parties had not discussed in weeks until the NHL tabled a four-page offer on Tuesday.

Thursday's three comebacks from the NHLPA were rejected quickly by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who called the day "very discouraging."

The players' proposals Thursday were further variations of earlier suggestions that there be no dollar reduction in payrolls that existed in 2011-12, when the players took 57 per cent of the league's hockey-related revenue.

Each contained an element reducing the players' share over time, but the league has been looking for a Year 1 split of 50-50, which was in its Tuesday proposal.

"We are still hoping that the PA will give further consideration to the proposal that we have on the table," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote Friday, responding to questions from the Free Press. "If they do not, I'm sure we will have to think of the next approach."

Elements of the NHL's proposals were roundly criticized by the players' side on Thursday.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr in particular spoke strongly against some of the contracting and players' share concessions the league was asking for in light of the spending spree some teams went on during the summer.

"It's exactly contrary to what teams were doing all summer, including by owners who were at the bargaining table (today)," he said.

It appeared to be a direct shot at Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold.

That matter has been a PR albatross for the NHL since all the spending took place under a cap that had been increased to $70.2 million for the summer. The number may have been pushed higher at the NHLPA's insistence, but teams willingly participated in the cash frenzy.

Asked to respond to that, Daly wrote: "All of our owners are extremely competitive and play within the whatever rules are bargained to govern their conduct and contracts.

"That doesn't mean they aren't supportive of tighter rules and restrictions that will improve the overall system and economics of the game when we have that opportunity in the context of collective bargaining."

Leipold, Washington's Ted Leonsis, Calgary's Murray Edwards and Boston's Jeremy Jacobs were present for the meetings Thursday, but weren't heard from publicly.

"The owners on our negotiating committee are united (as are our other owners), and have been very involved in the negotiations from the start, including with regard to the formation of our bargaining proposal," Daly said. "They don't put any pressure on Gary or me. In fact, if anything, they look to relieve whatever stress we may be feeling at every opportunity."

On Friday, the Free Press reached Ron Hainsey, the Winnipeg Jets player rep and a regular member of the NHLPA's bargaining committee.

Hainsey said he didn't have anything to add to Thursday's post-session commentary, when Fehr and players Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Shane Doan met with reporters.

Hainsey said Friday was simply a quiet day on the bargaining front, with no meetings planned.

He did add he didn't expect things to stay quiet for too long but declined any further comment on what's presently a tense situation.

While Thursday may have been a terse, trying day, the sides appear to be regrouping for another foray next week.

No meetings were held Friday and none were scheduled through the weekend.

New York is the likely scene for the next round in the not-too-distant future.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2012 C3

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