Labor talks stall after informal lunch Saturday

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Labor talks stall after informal lunch Saturday

NEW YORK -- The NHL and the Players' Association weren't quite ready to return to the bargaining table Saturday. But they put aside their differences long enough to at least have lunch together.

After negotiations hit a rough spot Friday on the fourth straight day of talks during the lockout, the sides stayed apart through the early part of Saturday. But they remained in contact during the day before meeting for a small, informal lunch in the afternoon, the Players' Association said in an email.

It was unknown if the sides would hold formal negotiations Saturday, the 56th day of the lockout that has delayed the start of the season and already forced it to be shortened. Talks broke off Friday night a few hours into a bargaining session on the core economic differences that separate the sides and threaten the season completely.

After those discussions ended, union executive director Donald Fehr held a conference call with the executive board and players on the negotiating committee. The players' association continued internal discussions Saturday before meeting with the league.

It became clear Friday night that the gap between the sides had grown wider. Whether negotiations took a step backward remains to be seen.

After three consecutive seemingly positive days of talks this week, discussions turned sour when negotiations ended for the night. The union was under the impression the numbers floated by each side indicated they were closer to an agreement with the league, but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman disagreed.

"Gary made a comment (Thursday) that there is still a lot of work to do. I think, given (Friday's) session, there is still a lot of work to do," Fehr said. "We looked at some of the numbers on the various proposals and we thought we were much closer together on the structure of a deal than the suggestions were. They came back to us and said, 'No, we are very very far apart on the structure of the deal.' "

There were vocal disagreements at the end of the session, and the union is beginning to feel the NHL isn't ready to make a deal now, even if the players were suddenly willing to accept the league's offer in full -- which they are not.

"We talked back and forth a little bit, and at one point the question was asked, 'If the players would agree to everything that's in your financial proposal, what you're saying is you still won't make an agreement unless the players give up everything in all of the player-contracting rights in your proposal?' The answer was, 'Yes, because that's what we want,' " Fehr said. "One wonders if that's really the case. How do you get there from here?

"Given where we are, we're going to reconvene internally (Saturday) morning and we'll come to grips with where we are and try to figure out what we'll do next. I don't know what will happen next."

Bettman declined to reveal what was discussed or where the disagreements lie. He also wouldn't characterize the mood of the talks.

"I am not going into the details of what takes place in the room," he said. "I really apologize but I do not think it would be constructive to the process. I don't want to either raise or lower expectations. I won't be happy until we get to the end result and that means we're playing again."

The union fought to put out internal fires Friday after a memo to players summarizing Thursday's negotiations was leaked to the media. That led to suggestions that the players' association didn't fully convey the owners' most recent proposal to its membership accurately or completely.

Fehr sternly shot down the report, if for no other reason that there were players present at the negotiations when the offer was put forward.

"Their proposal is made in front of players in the room who hear it," Fehr said. "It's made in front of staff who hear it, it's made in front of former players who hear it. They're on the phone talking to everybody on an ongoing basis afterward.

"Owners can't come to meetings when they want to hear stuff directly, but every single player can at the union's expense. Come hear it for himself, make the judgments, and all the rest of it."

Ron Hainsey, the player representative for the Winnipeg Jets, backed Fehr's assertion in full.

"Every player is welcome in every meeting," the defenseman said. "Every player has the ability to get in touch with Don via phone, via email, or get in touch with me or any member of the negotiating committee via phone, via email. This notion that something was hidden over the past 24 or 48 hours is totally inaccurate. We feel that this should put this issue to rest.

"Obviously, there aren't 30 owners in the room, there aren't 700 players, but we make sure everyone who wants to know exactly what's going on ... we're taking calls every night. It was a memo to summarize as quick as possible for players. At the end of that memo I believe it says if you want exact details of the offer, call us or email us."

The lockout has already caused the league to call off 327 regular-season games, including the New Year's Day Winter Classic in Michigan. The league is in danger of having a lockout wipe out a full season for the second time in seven years.

Bettman is scheduled to attend Hockey Hall of Fame inductions Monday night in Toronto, but developments in negotiations could prevent that.

The lockout began Sept. 16 after the collective bargaining agreement expired, and both sides rejected proposals Oct. 18. The players' association has agreed to a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues, but that division wouldn't kick in until the third year of the deal.

During a second consecutive day of marathon negotiations Wednesday, the players' association made an offer on revenue sharing in which richer teams would help out poorer organizations, and another proposal regarding the "make-whole" provision that would guarantee full payment of all existing multiyear player contracts.

Revenue sharing and the "Make-Whole" provision are major hurdles. Both sides have made proposals that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues. The NHL has moved toward the players' side on the "Make-Whole" provision and whose share of the economic pie that money will come from.

The NHLPA estimates that about 590 million is needed to guarantee the amount left to be paid to players on the "Make-Whole" provision, but so far the league is only offering 211 million.

The union accepted a salary cap in the previous labor pact, which wasn't reached until after the entire 2004-05 season was canceled because of a lockout. The union doesn't want to absorb the majority of concessions this time after the NHL had record revenue that exceeded 3 billion last season.

Players believe that dropping their share of hockey-related revenue from 57 percent to 50 percent is already a major concession on their part.

GMs have taken all the fun out of Trade Deadline day

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USATSI

GMs have taken all the fun out of Trade Deadline day

The NHL trade deadline came and went Monday night when the Washington Capitals went chips-in on St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

(For the record, the actual details of the trade are so absurdly complicated that all you will be permitted to know here is that the Caps got Shattenkirk).

But the fact is that, yet again, all the air rushed out of Wednesday’s trade deadline balloon for the hockey media, and the poor sods on set to babysit all the deal-lets and non-deals will weep bitterly as their phones spit out hour after hour of non-information.

At least that’s the way it is playing now. Maybe Pittsburgh will finally close that long-rumored (well, by me, anyway) Sidney Crosby-for-Phil Di Giuseppe deal, but that’s not the way to bet.

But the trade deadline has been slowly but surely dying as general managers find far greater advantage in making their deals away from the time crunch and the persistent phone calls from other general manager, agents and worst of all, media weasels.

For example, the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans broke the NBA trade deadline as well as the All-Star Game by doing the DeMarcus Cousins deal four days early and midway through the first half, in that order.

And though this wasn’t actually a trade, the Golden State Warriors broke the market back in July by maneuvering their way for the prize of the summer – Zaza Pachulia.

Oh, and the other guy.

In short, the general managers seem to have figured out the simplest way to foil the pressures of the trade deadline – by ignoring the deadline and acting ahead of time, creating their own spoiler alerts by spoiling everyone’s fun before they were fully alerted.

And that leaves the rest of us faced with an empty day of blather after we’ve all gone to the trouble of doubling down on beer and chips.

Ultimately the idea behind the coverage of a trade is to break the news of the trade whenever it happens. And the idea of the trade from the general manager’s view is to better the team and minimize the chance of being fired.

All laudable goals, by and large.

But a trade deadline without some recognizable trades is just another day when you can’t fake working, and who needs that?

What’s needed here then is a trade deadline with teeth and real tangible punishments for everyone involved. I mean, we have chips and guacamole to think of.

For instance, there is no reason why the leagues couldn’t install rules that say that no trade can be announced even to any of the principals (players, agents, medioids, et. al.) except on the day of the deadline. Any teams involved in a deal that breaks the embargo is fined a massive amount of the owners’ (as in both teams’ owners) money.

To make this work, the teams would have to agree no trade could be made between, say, Thanksgiving and the deadline. Or Christmas, depending on how you feel about tryptophan overdosing. But the point is, nothing could get done until the agreed-upon deadline, and it could only be announced to anyone on the day of the deadline.

This is profoundly unfair to the players, of course, but that little issue has never bothered management before when the alternative was money.

It is also not much fun for the media, which has to twiddle its opposables floating rumors that can’t be proven or disproven except on that one day when everyone works from midnight to midnight, wired to the eyelids on six-buck coffee and enough green tea to turn a gall bladder into a souvenir ash tray.

No, this is about making a worthwhile and ironclad trade deadline for the good of the sport, and the business.

Okay, this is about our amusement.

We all like trade deadlines. It gives order to the market, and it centers everyone’s focus on one hyper-adrenalized day to watch out for double-, triple- and quadruple-crosses from general managers wanting to jump each others’ action in search of their own personal Shattenkirks.

It spikes Verizon stock, it makes lots of business for movers and real estate vultures, it provides cheap and disposable fame for about two-thirds of the players in the league, and it makes everyone involved look like twitchy red-eyed zombies on television.

It beats the Bachelorette every time, because among other things it looks a lot more like parents do when they’ve been up all day and night with the colic farms.

In short, a trade deadline is a precious thing not to be discarded just because it’s inconvenient for a few suits and about-to-be-moved employees.

So yeah, Kevin Shattenkirk could have held another day or so. You know, for the good of the game.

 

Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

SAN JOSE – Less than 48 hours before the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday at noon, the Sharks’ brain trust has at least one important decision to make.

Are they comfortable rotating left wingers in and out of the Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski line, or should an upgrade be attempted via the trade market? There are a number of players said to be available that could provide the team with some forward depth and scoring punch ahead of the playoffs.

Seven different wingers have played on that so-called top line, none of them lasting more than one continuous stint there than Patrick Marleau from Nov. 21 – Jan. 3. 

In total, seven different players have started a game on that line, including Marleau (25 games), Tomas Hertl (13 games), Kevin Labanc (6 games), Mikkel Boedker (5 games), Timo Meier (4 games), Joel Ward (4 games) and Melker Karlsson (4 games). Injuries have played a role, of course, but it seems as if coach Pete DeBoer has been looking for someone to seize that position. 

Pavelski, though, didn’t seem overly worried about the ongoing alternation.

“We’ve had a few different players there, and I don’t think it’s a concern,” said the captain. “You’re always looking for chemistry and something set in stone if you can get it, but throughout a game, things change.”

DeBoer laid out what he’s looking for in a player to skate alongside Thornton and Pavelski, as well as the kind of player that wouldn’t fit in that role.

“You have to play [at Pavelski and Thornton’s] level and their work ethic,” said the coach. “They want the puck. They want to hunt the puck and want someone to get in there and retrieve pucks so that they can have possession. 

“I can tell you a guy who doesn’t fit would be a guy who is strictly a shooter, or kind of lets other people do the work and just goes to holes. They need somebody that’s going to work at their level and hunt the puck, so that’s got to be part of it.”

Labanc is the latest player to hold down that spot, starting there for the last four games and remaining there for Monday’s practice at Sharks Ice. Just 21 years old, Labanc has contributed a respectable seven goals and 18 points in his first 46 NHL games. Still, he hasn’t scored a goal in his last 22 games, and has just one assist and four total shots in the last four games.

It’s debatable whether the still-smallish Labanc is ready for the rigors of an NHL schedule on a full-time basis, which would make it dangerous for the Sharks to go into the postseason with someone like him in such a key position. DeBoer, though, praised the rookie’s recent efforts.

“I thought he’s done a good job. He’s got some of those [aforementioned] attributes,” DeBoer said. "He’s an offensive guy, [and] he thinks on their level offensively.”

Other teams in direct competition with the Sharks for a Western Conference title are adding pieces, particularly up front. Anaheim acquired scoring winger Patrick Eaves from Dallas, the Blackhawks brought in Detroit forward Tomas Jurco, and Minnesota gave up a haul to Arizona for center Martin Hanzal.

If the Sharks don’t make a move, they will likely go the whole season without bringing in a single player from the outside other than their young prospects. That would be unique, especially for a team that has championship aspirations.

Pavelski seemed to insinuate that he expects at least one body to arrive.

“Whoever we get, hopefully they’ll fill a little depth or add a little something, and we’ll go from there,” he said.

But if not?

“It doesn’t change anything if nothing happens, that’s for sure. We’re going to keep trying to get better.”