ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Donald Fehr updated about 25 players on the state of the NHL lockout Saturday, but the bad news was there was no news or progress to report.
There are no official collective bargaining negotiation sessions planned, and it doesn’t seem like the two sides are any closer to an agreement now than they were a week ago, before the most recent talks.
“When we made our proposal on Wednesday, I thought the answer would be yes. But we didn’t get a response which suggests that we are,” Fehr said from Caesars before the Operation Hat Trick charity game. “When you make a move towards them, if you’re going to have an agreement, somebody has to say, ‘Yes and now I can do this.’ Instead they said, more or less, ‘Yes and what else can you do for me?’”
There was communication between the owners and NHL Players’ Association Friday, and Fehr expects that to continue either Sunday or Monday. It’s unclear how much wiggle room the players have after their last proposal, which included more concessions in the owners’ direction.
“Everybody understands that negotiation is a process, that’s about all I can say. So far, we seem to be doing all the negotiating,” Fehr said. “When you say, we have to have with the right hand and I’m going to give you with the left hand, that’s one thing, if they say we have to take with the right hand and we’re going to take with the left hand, too, that becomes very difficult.”
Fehr pointed to player contract rights as a major issue that the owners are not conceding on. The league wants to limit new contracts to five years or fewer and constrict arbitration rights.
“In a circumstance in which if the cap is going to limited, the player contracting rights, which is where the individual player has an opportunity to get his share of the pie, have to be constricted too. And those become more, not less important, to players as cap space is limited,” Fehr said. “When you add to that, that the rights the players believe they must maintain are what they got in the last negotiation in return for massive concessions, it becomes very difficult.”
Fehr said players have been clear that player contracting rights are “vital” but explained that there has not been recognition of that fact from the other side.
The next step in the process from the NHLPA side could be to decertify as a union. That would take away the union’s ability to bargain for players, but it would also wrest control of the process from the league. It could be a messy process that lasts months or years in court challenging antitrust legislation, but the NBA and NFL players did so and came to agreements on new CBAs.
Fehr was not forthcoming about whether the players have discussed desertification as an option.
“There are two sets of laws that govern these situations and what happens is that, from time to time, unions and sports unions have essentially said that there are circumstances in which members would be better off without a union and taking action under the antitrust laws,” he said. “And that’s all I can say about it. You can check what’s happened in the other sports.”