NEW YORK — While negotiators for the NHL and union kept conversations to a minimum, club officials had a brief window last week to discuss the league’s latest proposal with its locked-out players.
So far, those discussions haven’t produced any breakthrough, but they have inflamed an already unsettled atmosphere. The union hierarchy wasn’t informed about the window, and isn’t happy about it, either.
“Most owners are not allowed to attend bargaining meetings,” players’ association special counsel Steve Fehr said. “No owners are allowed to speak to the media about the bargaining. It is interesting that they are secretly unleashed to talk to the players about the meetings the players can attend, but the owners cannot.”
The NHL said Tuesday that team officials may have temporary contact with players, although there are parameters regarding what can be discussed.
“From our perspective, this is a nonissue and a nonstory,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Tuesday in an email to The Associated Press. “There is nothing — legally or otherwise — that precludes club personnel from communicating with their players.”
But, more important, is the fact that NHL officials aren’t talking to union leaders, and there are still no plans for negotiations to continue after breaking off last week. The hope of reaching a quick deal and getting a full season under way Nov. 2 is quickly evaporating.
If a new collective bargaining agreement isn’t reached by Thursday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says a full season won’t be able to be played. As of now, the league has called off all games through Nov. 1. Without a deal this week, those games are in danger of being called off for good.
Last week, the NHL’s most recent contract offer — featuring a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue — was presented to the union and then publicly released in full. The union returned to the bargaining table last Thursday with three counterproposals, that would also get to an even split of hockey revenue, but each was quickly rejected by the league.
There is a major divide between the sides over how to deal with existing player contracts. The union wants to ensure that those are all paid in full without affecting future player contracts.
No negotiations have taken place since last week, but the sides held two conference calls over the weekend to address questions the union had regarding the NHL offer.
After the NHL released it on Wednesday, club officials were given until Friday to speak to players and answer questions they might have about the proposal.
In an internal league memo obtained by The Canadian Press, the NHL stated that those discussions must be limited to the contents of the proposal on the table. It also provided examples of questions that shouldn’t be asked of players and noted that straying from the rules could “cause serious legal problems.”
“You may not ask (a player) what he or others have in mind,” the memo stated. “If he volunteers what he has in mind you should not respond positively or negatively or ask any questions but instead refer him to the NHLPA.
“Likewise, you may not suggest hypothetical proposals that the league might make in the future or that the league might entertain from the union.”
This was the first time club officials were permitted by the NHL to talk to players since the lockout took effect Sept. 16.