With the expiration date on the current collective bargaining agreement - Sept. 15 - drawing near, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, and his top assistant and brother, Steve Fehr, sat down with Commissioner Gary Bettman and his deputy, Bill Daly, for a status check after a week of little to no communication. The two sides last held formal discussions last Friday, but those ended with Donald Fehr telling reporters the talks were in a "recess."
Players have often flanked the Fehrs for support in the process, and Friday was no different. Buffalo defenseman Robyn Regher, Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey, and Minnesota forward Zenon Konopka were on hand in New York.
The league has said it will lock the players out if a new deal isn't reached by the 15th.
"(We're) trying to find a way to bridge the gap," Donald Fehr said. "That's always the intent."
Negotiations, throughout the summer, have taken breaks during weekends. But are likely to start back up this week.
"We expect discussions to resume," Fehr said. "We don't know yet."
Bettman confirmed the meeting lasted two hours on Friday, and as he has been through the most of the process, he remains optimistic.
"We'd like to make a deal," he said, refusing to characterize the mood of the morning session. "There is an ebb and flow to negotiations.
"It's always good to have dialogue."
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On Friday, in a conference call to announce a new deal for forward Brad Marchand, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli said the Bruins canceled an upcoming rookie camp and tournament. The Detroit Red Wings did the same thing last month.
The Pearl Street Grill and Brewery is always packed on Sabres game nights. With an NHL lockout looming, the eatery's general manager says the impact may not be as bad as one thinks.
"We actually finished with a sales increase in 2005 during the last lockout," says Bill Casale. "We've diversified our business in many different areas and we're prepared to handle it either way." Casale says he's optimistic a lockout won't happen, but promotions are key to lessening the impact.
One of them caters to football fans, especially those visiting Buffalo. "At Brawler's Deli, we have the NFL Sunday Ticket, so we're trying to take advantage of some other fans other than Bills fans in our facilities at our hotels. We've also expanded our college and minor league sports sponsorships as well," notes Casale.
But a lockout may mean fewer jobs come winter. "With hockey we need more employees, and usually we hire every September for the start of hockey season. So, we've delayed that until we find out what direction it's going," Casale says.
He says 1,500 customers are served on a game night, and if there's a lockout, he estimates that's a 40 percent increase in business he'll lose out on. But Casale says the banquet rooms usually reserved for pregame buffet parties have been rented out already.
If there is hockey, he says there are other facilities Pearl Street Grill owns where fans can go for those events, like the Webb Building next door or the Pan American Brewery at the Hotel Lafayette.
When talks broke off last week, the NHLPA responded to an offer from the NHL with changes to an earlier proposal. The union's most recent offer came three days after the NHL made its first counterproposal last Tuesday. After asking the players to cut their share of hockey revenue from 57 to 43 percent, the NHL upped its proposal to have the players get a 46 percent share over a six-year deal.
The union revised its initial offer by proposing to restructure the fourth and final year of its initial offer. The NHLPA was willing to give back between $465 million and $800 million in revenue over the first three years of the deal as long as the system switched back to the existing agreement in the fourth year.
Donald Fehr countered by proposing "several concepts" in which the players would get less than 57 percent of revenues in the fourth and final year. The NHLPA, however, is still asking NHL owners to establish a revenue sharing program to help struggling teams.
Bettman called revenue sharing "a distraction" and questioned whether the union made an actual counterproposal or a mere response to the league's presentation.
The union has questioned the NHL as to why it is attempting to have players bear much of the burden of cost savings, especially after the league reported record revenues topping $3.3 billion last season.
Aside from asking the players to take an across-the-board cut in their share of revenues, the NHL is also seeking to place severe limits on free agency while also abolishing players' rights to salary arbitration.
The NHL has had three labor disputes since April 1, 1992, when players held a 10-day strike that forced 30 games to be rescheduled. The most recent two were lockouts.
The regular season is scheduled to begin on Oct. 11.