Donald Fehr declined to say much about a potential disbanding of the NHL Players' Association shortly before a charity hockey game put on by the union but he did emphasize one point – the mess the NHL is in was created solely by the owners.
"These are not strikes, they are lockouts," the NHLPA executive director said Wednesday night at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, (formally known as Maple Leaf Gardens) home of Ryerson University's hockey and basketball teams as well as a grocery store.
Fehr was responding to a question about the NHL's third labour disruption since the 1994-95 season, all of them coming during the reign of commissioner Gary Bettman. His response was yet another emphasis in his brief media scrum that the players are willing to get back to the bargaining table and the only reason the charity event was the only game in Toronto so far this winter that featured NHL players is because the owners locked them out.
When he was asked why there are no negotiations or any sign of them, Fehr said, "because the owners have not indicated a desire to resume."
"We've indicated any number of times that we're willing to resume whenever they are without pre-conditions," Fehr added. "One of the senior players on the bargaining committee suggested [Tuesday] that perhaps it made sense for the group that we had in New York a couple of weeks ago along with the principal negotiators to resume. That seems like it might work. So we're waiting to hear back from [the owners]."
However, there are no talks scheduled, nor is there any sign they will resume any time soon. But that did not stop NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly from saying on Toronto radio station The Fan 590 that he still believes the owners and players will manage to get a new collective agreement in time to save a partial season.
Fehr did not offer his own opinion on the possibility but said he hopes Daly is right. "Good. That's good news. I'm glad to hear that. I certainly hope he's right. That's the players' goal, that's what we want to try and do," Fehr said. "Hopefully, we'll get back together and negotiate out the remaining issues as soon as possible."
The players are expected to finish voting by Friday on a mandate giving the NHLPA's executive committee the right to declare a "disclaimer of interest." That will give the union the right to give up its collective-bargaining rights and open the door to an anti-trust lawsuit against the owners.
While it appears the union will not take that step immediately but use it to get the owners moving toward an agreement, Fehr declined to comment on the matter. "That's an internal matter," he said.