NEW YORK (AP) - At least they are still talking.
That seemed to be the best thing that could be said on Wednesday after the NHL and the players’ association met for about five hours on the first of at least two straight days of talks in an effort to work out a deal to end the monthlong lockout.
Although it has been a week since the NHL called off the first two weeks of the regular season, that sting will be felt full force on Thursday when what should have been opening day goes by the wayside without a puck hitting the ice.
The sides met twice on Wednesday and will get back to the bargaining table on Thursday. If things go well, or if the scheduled work can’t be completed, there could be another day of talks Friday.
Any bit of optimism at this point would be embraced.
“I think we’re making progress in a number of the areas that were discussed, which include health and safety, drug testing issues, medical care,” NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said. “They were good discussions. It’s a shame that they are going on in the midst of a lockout when we could be doing it while we’re playing, or we could’ve been doing it a month ago or two months ago.”
The NHL’s top two executives _ Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly _ met with the NHLPA’s main negotiators _ executive director Donald Fehr and his brother Steve _ for nearly an hour Wednesday morning to assess where the sides were on Day 25 of the lockout, but there were no concrete discussions on the troublesome core economic issues that are preventing a deal from being struck.
A four-hour session stretched into evening and included miscellaneous legal topics. The health issues involved seeking multiple medical opinions on injuries, and who should make determinations when a player is healthy enough to return to action after being hurt.
“We have some disagreements in those areas,” Daly said. “When you get to this point of the discussions on some of those areas, that is to be expected, so we’re kind of refining some of the things we continue to have disagreements on.
“We had no discussion of the major economic issues or system issues, so that continues to be a disappointment from our perspective.”
There are still no plans to delve into how the sides will split up hockey-related revenue that was in excess of $3 billion last season.
“You often don’t know whether you’re making progress until you look back on it,” Steve Fehr said. “We were just sort of discussing the overall status of the bargaining and where the parties are.”
The NHL is eager to get a new proposal from the union on the main economic issues, but the players contend that they have moved closer to the league’s demands in their previous offers while the NHL has only sought to take more away from the union in each proposal it has made.
“I wouldn’t say (talks) are dead in the water,” Steve Fehr said. “The sides are in constant communication. I think we have a pretty good sense of where each other is.”
However, Donald Fehr has floated the idea that the longer the lockout goes on, the players might seek to make an offer that doesn’t include a salary cap _ the very issue that led to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season. The collective bargaining agreement that finally ended that lockout seven years ago expired last month.