- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 28, 2012

OTTAWA — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr talked a lot Saturday about the upcoming collective bargaining agreement. But both said little about the whole situation.

It’s a subject that will be in the spotlight from now through an uncertain offseason, with the CBA set to expire Sept. 15. But in town for NHL All-Star weekend, neither side was willing to show its cards publicly. Instead, Bettman and Fehr cautioned that there’s plenty of time to work things out, even though negotiations haven’t really started yet.

“My guess is, at least informally we’ll have some discussions in the not-too-distant future,” Bettman said. “We’re patient. I’m not concerned about the time frame.”

Fehr, who served as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1985 to 2010, said he would be meeting with Bettman this week, adding that he speaks with the league office about a range of topics often. His adjustment from baseball to hockey has taken time, but he doesn’t think that will be an issue.

“We will be prepared to negotiate an agreement,” Fehr said.

Fehr met with players in Ottawa but wasn’t even open about characterizing the tone of conversation.

“I think it’s focused, I think it’s businesslike. I think they’re getting ready,” Fehr said. “Obviously, when they’re playing commitments for this year end, that will give them a lot more time and opportunity.”

That no real negotiations have started yet between the owners and players doesn’t seem to be an issue, especially given that any talks would likely be deadline-driven anyway. The offseason will go on as usual, even though Washington Capitals All-Star and impending free agent Dennis Wideman said recently he wasn’t sure what would happen this summer.

“It’s not like regular summers in free agency where July 1 comes up and you sign. No one really knows what’s going to happen with the negotiations and where the negotiations are going to be at July 1,” the defenseman said. “Are the GM’s going to even want to sign anybody? No one really knows what’s going on — or I don’t, anyway. I think there’s just a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen.”

Fehr cautioned that negotiating a new CBA isn’t like a photo op where it’ll all be underway when cameras catch him and Bettman at a negotiating table. Instead, informal talks will lead to a feeling-out process and then serious talks will begin.

There’s still much to work out, like both sides getting on the same page about revenues and such.

“There’s significant information that we don’t have,” Fehr said. “We have overall revenues for almost all teams … and we have the player-cost numbers. We don’t have the rest of it.”

Getting that is one step of what will likely be an arduous process that hockey fans hope does not cost the NHL any games.

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