Negotiations are on again but this time there is no giddy sense of optimism the end of the NHL lockout is at hand.
The gloom and anger, which grew late last week on both sides of the labour dispute following the news that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman suggested a two-week moratorium on negotiations, has not lifted. Conversations with people in both the management and union ranks showed most were pessimistic even an abbreviated 2012-13 season could be saved and news that the union and management will try to restart the negotiations provided only a slight lift to the sour feelings.
As one governor put it, the only reason to feel even a slight sense of optimism is the fact they are talking again. The vast difference between the league and the union remains.
After a couple of conversations between NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHL Players' Association special counsel Steve Fehr on the weekend, it was decided to take another stab at a full negotiating session. The talks will begin Monday in New York and both Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr are expected to attend along with some players and owners.
"We can confirm that we have tentatively agreed to get back together on Monday, either late in the afternoon or early evening," Daly said in an e-mail message. "The meeting was requested by the union and it's their agenda. We will see what they have to tell us."
Daly did not know if the union will be bringing a new proposal. A union spokesman declined to say if anything new will be brought to the table. The union was the only party interested in continuing negotiations, as the league made it known last week it would only negotiate again if the union came up with a new proposal.
There was some excitement on Saturday after the Philadelphia Daily News reported Philadelphia Flyers chairman Ed Snider was unhappy with Bettman and Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, the chairman of the NHL board of governors. The story said Snider, one of the most powerful owners in the league, was trying to rally enough support among the other owners to push Bettman toward a deal.
However, Snider issued a statement saying the story was "absolutely erroneous." He said he remains a "solid supporter" of Bettman.
Snider is not considered a hardliner by his fellow governors, as the lockout is costing him on two fronts. The Flyers are owned by Comcast, which also owns the NBC television network. NBC was looking forward to kicking off its new $200-million (all currency U.S.) per year contract with the NHL later this week on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.
However, more than one governor pointed out it is almost impossible for the moderates to gain control. While Bettman needs only eight of 30 votes to turn down a proposal for a collective agreement from the NHLPA, it would take 23 to force him to accept one. The governors say the opinions in their ranks are so split neither the hardliners nor the moderates could rally 23 votes.
Recent days have shown there are sharp differences between the players and owners on more issues than the major one of splitting hockey-related revenue. While the players and owners have agreed to an eventual 50-50 split, the owners want to move to it immediately while the players want a gradual move from the 57 per cent share of revenue they received in the former agreement.
But there are also differences in contract rights, such as free agency, contract lengths and limits to annual salary increases. The players also want to receive the full value of their existing contracts.
The owners have offered to put $211-million over two years toward "making the players whole" as long as it is deferred for one year after the new agreement begins. The players say that will not cover 100 per cent of their contracts.