Two of the pivotal figures in the current NHL labour dispute appeared separately on Hockey Night in Canada Radio’s season-opening show on Tuesday afternoon, and judging by their respective comments, there's plenty of negotiating to be done before the league's 30 teams hit the ice again.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly joined hosts Gord Stellick and Craig Simpson on Sirius Channel 207 and confirmed that talks between the two sides are set for this week – on Wednesday and Thursday in New York.
If there's one thing Daly and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr can be said to agree on, it's that there's currently a good faith attempt to working towards a settlement as soon as possible.
"I'm not sure we're [the league and the players] lacking in kind of the basic elements of understanding each other," said Daly, who added that mediation from an outside observer isn't needed at this point. "I think we understand where each side is. I understand the players’ position to this point, and I would hope that they understand our position.
"It’s a matter of compromise and coming up with a fair solution that works for both sides."
"You have to assume they want to try and reach an agreement otherwise there's no point in even going to the meetings," the NHLPA head said. "So we do that and we work at every day until you find a way to break the logjam, and you hope it's tomorrow, or the next day, and you just keep at it."
The bad news for hockey fans is that the sides haven't even begun to bridge differences on revenue sharing and other key issues.
Fehr said while there's some kind of communication between the two sides on most days, there has been no movement with respect to determining years of service before free agency eligibility, what do with salary arbitration, and the concept of a maximum contract length.
Having said that, Fehr believed that the two sides are still only, in his words, "inching" towards a realistic discussion due to an initial proposal from the league that called for massive concessions from gains already bargained by the players.
"That sort of put a stamp on these negotiations that has been difficult to overcome," he said of the first offering from the league.
In the league's defence, Daly said it was essential that the new economic agreement allow for flexibility. At the end of the most recent CBA, the players were receiving 57 per cent of hockey-related revenue, what the league deems an unworkable proposition in the long term.
Daly argued that changing economic times have largely impacted why the two sides are seeing the numbers differently.
"There a lot of things that have transpired over the last seven years, including probably the most significant economic recession in the United States since the great depression that have changed the economics of the deal pretty significantly, and we want the players’ association at least to take recognition of that," he said.
Fehr wondered aloud why the more successful teams couldn't help their struggling counterparts to remain healthy through revenue sharing, instead of it the burden falling to the employees, the players. He said that for all the talk of sacrifice, there has been no mention of streamlining or reducing costs in any of the NHL's various corporate divisions.
"The response we've had so far is basically that everything's perfect except that the players are being paid too much ... ," said Fehr.
"It pretty much leaves the players off to the side saying, 'How do we get there [to a settlement] from here?'"
The players and owners have been locked in a labour stalemate since the most recent collective bargaining agreement expired on Sept. 15, and the league implemented a lockout. The league called off scheduled regular-season contests until Oct. 24, and more cancellations may happen should the two sides fail to come to an agreement.
Daly said there's a recognition from the league that it's a perilous course to be on, both economically and in terms of the goodwill of fans.
The deputy commissioner estimated the NHL has lost $250 million US and counting in terms of the games lost so far.
"Which is a very significant hole and that's something that costs both parties, it doesn't just cost the National League Hockey, it's going to cost the players some significant percentage whether its 50, 57, or 47 per cent," said Daly. "It's some significant portion of those revenues the players won't be seeing, so it's tough for both us."
Fehr countered that it's the players who bear the brunt, and any suffering from the owners and league is self-inflicted.
"What you have to remember is the one consistent thing in the cap sports — basketball, football, hockey — If you look back the last 10, 12, 14 years … whenever an agreement comes up, the owners lock out [the players] and ask questions later. You don't have to do that, a lockout's a choice."
This week's meetings in New York won’t be focused on core economic issues, but Daly sees value in establishing more momentum.
"[The meetings are] an effort to follow up on some of the issues we were talking about about a week ago and get as many of these side issues in the can as possible, because ultimately, knock on wood, we’re going to reach an agreement and hopefully we’re going to be moving very very quickly to get the players back on the ice."