NHL labor talks continue, but sides remain far apart

Top negotiators for the NHL and the players’ union met Wednesday morning to discuss the status of their labor talks, agreed to skip a second scheduled session and decided to reconvene in Toronto on Thursday.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly met with NHLPA executives Donald Fehr and Steve Fehr for two hours. The current collective bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 15 and Bettman has said the league will lock players out if a new agreement isn’t reached.

“I think system-related proposals and economic proposals are the most critical issues and probably the issues where we have the widest divergence of views currently,” Daly told the Canadian Press news agency. “I’m all in favor of spending as much time as possible trying to bridge those gaps.”

Donald Fehr told reporters that the talks Wednesday centered on how to go forward and that nothing should be read into the cancellation of the second session. “This is one of the normal things that happens in bargaining,” he said. He also said he expects talks to continue in New York “all of next week and maybe thereafter at the NHL offices.”

The NHL has proposed redefining what constitutes hockey-related revenue and reducing players’ share of that revenue. Its plan would essentially cut salaries by 24%, the same reduction it won in the resolution of the dispute that wiped out the 2004-05 season.

The league also wants to postpone unrestricted free agency until players are at least 28 and to cap contracts at a maximum of five years, though in the meantime owners continue to sign players to lengthy extensions. Most recently, the Edmonton Oilers extended Taylor Hall’s contract for seven years and the Philadelphia Flyers re-signed both Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds for six years.

The NHLPA has proposed taking a smaller percentage of revenue for the next three seasons than the 57% players received last season, in exchange for the league’s implementing a wide-ranging revenue-sharing plan to help weaker clubs. Those funds would be distributed through an industry growth fund overseen in part by Bettman.

Separately, a rule-enforcement meeting in Toronto involving NHL players, coaches, executives and on-ice officials concluded with a consensus to call the diving/embellishment penalty more frequently next season. Slashing was also discussed, with the consensus that any stick contact to an opponent’s hand should be called a penalty.