NHL labor negotiations about to begin

NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr listens

NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr listens as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman holds a news conference before Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup finals. (June 1, 2011) (Credit: AP)

CHICAGO -- 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.

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.

Fehr was asked if a work stoppage was inevitable. He said nothing like that was coming from the union, and note that the NHLPA has not yet made a formal CBA proposal. He said the union had not yet "heard" a proposal from the league.

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.

Commissioner Garry 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.

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