Donald Fehr seemed unfazed when asked Thursday for his reaction to the NHL’s imposition of a Sept. 15 deadline to get a new collective bargaining agreement in place or face a lockout.
The head of the National Hockey League Players Association met with the press shortly after a 90 minute sitdown down between the sides, and refused to take the bait on that deadline.
"Under the law, if an agreement expires, that may give someone the legal ability to go on strike or impose a lockout," said Fehr, a veteran campaigner in these types of negotiations from his years running the baseball players’ union.
"There is no requirement to do so, and if nobody does anything you continue to work under the old conditions until they do things. If there is a lockout, somebody has to choose to do that."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman delivered the deadline to the players during the Thursday session and then confirmed it to reporters afterwards.
"I re-confirmed something that the union has been told multiple times over the last nine to 12 months," Bettman said. "Namely, that time is getting short and the owners are not prepared to operate under this collective bargaining agreement for another season, so we need to get to making a deal and doing it soon.
"And we believe there's ample time for the parties to get together and make a deal and that's what we're going to be working towards."
Deadlines can come and go, but as of now, that would leave 37 days of negotiation to avoid a work stoppage.
The players have suggested repeatedly that the sides could continue bargaining while proceeding under the old agreement, but the NHL would not likely go for that because it would take away a major bargaining chip for the league.
Fehr also confirmed the players would deliver a counter-proposal to the NHL when the sides meet in Toronto on Tuesday.
At the Thursday meeting, the players made a presentation to the owners that basically discredited the league’s proposed revenue sharing system because when combined with the current player compensation rules "it seems to us overall, and club by club, that all of the revenue sharing payments, both the new ones and existing ones, would paid for by player salary reductions.
"I don’t know if there would be revenue sharing after that, it remains to be seen."
Asked how far apart the two sides are, Fehr said "there is a meaningful gulf there."
Player representatives will now gather for a series of meetings in advance of the Tuesday sit-down with the owners.