CHICAGO (AP) — The head of the NHL players’ union said Monday that negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement will begin “very quickly” — perhaps as early as this week — and didn’t rule out talks stretching into the season.
New NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr said negotiations will begin after Wednesday’s meeting of the NHLPA’s executive board, though he did not specify a date. He was in Chicago for three days of union talks.
The NHL canceled the 2004-05 season before a labor deal was reached that included a salary cap for the first time. That agreement expires on Sept. 15.
Fehr was asked whether a work stoppage was inevitable.
“None of that is coming from our side,” he said. “We have not made a proposal. We haven’t heard an owners’ proposal.”
He also shrugged off concerns about having a deal in place by the time the season begins.
“There’s nothing magic about Sept. 15. The law is that if you don’t have a new agreement, and as long as both sides are willing to keep negotiating, you can continue to play under the terms of the old one until you reach an agreement,” he said. “All I know is that in baseball, there were any number of occasions in which we played while the parties were continuing to negotiate.”
Commissioner Gary Bettman said during the Stanley Cup finals last month that he believes the labor scene is different this time around. One big change is that the players are now being led by Fehr, the former head of the powerful baseball union.
Fehr is working with a group that was in disarray following the lockout and went through several changes in leadership and a scandal that led to former executive director Bob Goodenow’s demise.
Fehr was brought in as an adviser before becoming the union’s head about a year and a half ago. He has since spent time catching up on hockey and his members’ needs. He has been having informal discussions with Bettman for some time.
A huge issue for both sides is revenue sharing, with owners wanting to cut the players’ share of league revenue from 57 percent. How deep the sides dig in could go a long way toward determining whether the NHL becomes the third major sports league in the past two years to go through a work stoppage.
The NBA played a shortened season with a condensed schedule after a labor dispute pushed the start of the season back to late December, and the NFL went through a lockout that wiped out most of the offseason training program a year ago and delayed training camp.
Fehr is already showing signs he won’t be a pushover.
The union scuttled the NHL’s plans to realign and switch from two three-division conferences to four seven- or eight-team conferences in January, because it was not consulted.
Another issue is the Olympics.
The players want to compete. Bettman has long made it clear that he doesn’t see the benefit in it for the league, even though it provides many players to the Olympics right in the midst of the NHL season.
AP sports writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, N.Y., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.