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NHLPA gets its stuff together in Chicago, prepares to open CBA negotiations on Friday

Smart, smart, smart. At least from this biased NHLPA supporter’s perspective. As Paul noted, the NHL and NHLPA will kick off CBA negotiations in New York, NY on Friday…

But before doing so, Comcast Sportsnet Chicago’s Chris Boden reports that they’ll name a 30-player negotiating committee aft the close of their three-day executive board meetings in Chicago, and equally intelligently, they’ve scheduled meetings all over the world up to speed, with Boden and NHL.com’s Brian Hedger stating that the meetings are scheduled to take place in Toronto, Ontario, (for Eastern Canadians and Americans), Kelowna, British Columbia (for the players who spend their summers in Western Canada or the Western U.S.), Moscow (for Russian players), Barcelona, Spain (for players from the rest of Europe) and another meeting in Chicago as well (cue the Midwesterners).

Today, the 50-some players in attendance split into three groups to tackle several topics at once, and they spoke to Hedger about what they discussed, at least in general terms:

“We had a lot of good discussions about where our priorities are and that’s kind of why we broke down into the groups, just trying to educate ourselves a little bit more,” Washington Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said. “Smaller groups aren’t so intimidated to talk and share ideas.”

The conclusion of these meetings Wednesday includes an update about when initial negotiations will begin, as well as an announcement on the makeup of the NHLPA negotiating committee, which is expected to include more than 30 players. The negotiating committee members will be determined through a vote of the executive board, which is comprised of designated representatives for all 30 teams. Players filling in for designated team reps who weren’t able to attend this meeting will cast binding votes in place of the team rep. It’s an important facet because the official negotiating committee, along with Executive Director Donald Fehr, will control the direction of the negotiations from the players’ perspective and disseminate information to the rest of the membership.

“I have all the faith in world in the negotiating committee that’s donating their time and becoming informed on all the issues, and certainly Don’s got a wealth of experience in dealing with these types of things,” veteran Chicago Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers said. “We’re certainly going to lean on his expertise and also the negotiating committee in passing on the information.”
“There’s been a lot of presentations with information, but there’s also been times where we could voice our opinion and really get down to some nuts and bolts of what’s important to us,” St. Louis Blues captain David Backes said. “It’s been a lot of information, but it’s great to be informed.”

Players who aren’t in attendance will have more opportunities to stay current on CBA negotiations during the next few months at regional union meetings scheduled for locations in Europe and in North America—including Barcelona, Moscow, Toronto, Kelowna, B.C., and Chicago.

“I don’t know if it’s (about) being that much smarter,” New York Islanders star John Tavares said of the sessions. “It’s just being more aware and understanding that negotiations are starting very shortly and we’re preparing ourselves, working toward a fair deal with the League and working with the League to improving our game in all aspects.”

So the plan this time around, very obviously, is to keep the players who were shut out of the loop in 2005—as Ted Saskin and Trevor Linden acquiesced to Bill Daly’s demands and negotiated in secret—well-appraised of how negotiations unfold (again, they’re not beholden to any sort of gag order, unlike the owners), and the PA hopes to go forth and negotiate upon a basis of player consensus, as PA members told the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc:

“The guys are headed in the right direction with their views and how we want to carry forward,” former Hawks and current Capitals winger Troy Brouwer said. “We had a lot of good discussions about where our priorities are. We’re trying to educate ourselves.”

Myriad issues, including revenue sharing, will have to be resolved to avoid a work stoppage like the lockout that caused the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.

“We made a lot of huge concessions last time and certainly there are going to be issues that arise,” Hawks forward Jamal Mayers said. “The league for the last seven years has seen revenues grow. I’m sure they’ll have their angle on things. My hope is that we can get a deal done. Like all things, it always takes time and pressure for things to happen.”

The NHLPA meetings will conclude Wednesday and the board also will announce the members of the negotiating committee that will feature more than 30 players, likely including many team union representatives. Regional meetings to update NHL players on the status of negotiations are expected to be held in July and August around the world.

“We’re both going to make our cases,” Brouwer said. “Negotiations are always tough.

“You have to look out for yourselves, and your players and your union,” Brouwer continued. “We want to play hockey and we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that there’s a season come September.”

Comcast Sportsnet Chicago’s Chris Boden says that Tuesday’s meetings were particularly long, kicking off around 10 AM and going until 5 PM CDT to ensure that the small-group “breakout sessions” would provide as much of a free exchange of ideas regarding the PA’s desires from frank and open discussion…

“It’s about getting a chance to share your feelings,” said Blackhawks player representative Steve Montador. “It’s not a one-way street, but a two-way street of enabling and empowering players to speak up, and share and give their opinions while we’re getting a lot of information and learning a lot.”

“We had a lot of discussions about what our priorities are,” former Hawk and current Capital Troy Brouwer said. “It’s why we broke down into groups – to try to educate ourselves a little more in small groups, so you’re not as intimidated to talk and share ideas.”

As hard-line as Executive Director Fehr was running Major League Baseball’s union for 24 years, there were several cases in which negotiations carried on despite a season at-hand and no deal in place. He expressed a willingness Monday to do the same here, but players like Brouwer know a lot of being able to pull that off comes from the state of talks when the current CBA ends September 15th, and if the feeling’s mutual on the management side.

“You’ve got to look out for yourselves. Obviously, we want to play hockey and we want to make sure we can do everything in our power that there’s a season come September.”

Brouwer was just a fan seven years ago when the entire 2004-05 season was lost prior to the current collective bargaining agreement finally being reached. Current Blackhawks Montador and Jamal Mayers were players who wound up finding work in France and Sweden, respectively. Montador was coming off a Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup Final for Calgary against Tampa Bay.

“We made a number of concessions last time that cost us a season,” he reflected Tuesday. “Nobody wants to miss a season of hockey – players, fans, owners. The game has made too many positive strides the past seven years to try and warrant that. We have a lot to look forward to, and a lot of room to work to get a new deal done. We have issues we want to stand on and we have to be able to represent that. With the corps of players we have here (at the meetings in Chicago), we’re capable of doing that.”

And from experience, Mayers knows league executives and owners will have their own spin on things, beginning Friday.

“Obviously, we made a lot of huge concessions last time. There’s going to be issues that arise, but the league – for the last seven years – has seen revenues grow. I’m sure they’ll have their angle, but my hope is we can get a deal done. Like all things, it always takes time and pressure for things to happen. But we’ll have faith in this negotiating committee to do the job.”

The players made sure that their message got out on video as well, with ESPN posting a clip of Jonathan Toews speaking about bringing younger players on board, Shane Doan and Brendan Morrison speaking to CSN Chicago…

Toews also speaking to the media (this clip is from Monday)...

And TSN’s Darren Dreger and Sara Orlesky offering their observations on the meetings (Dreger says that of the 30-some players named to the negotiating committee, 10 or so will swap in and out over the course of the summer)...

The bottom line, as the players told the Canadian Press’s Chris Johnston, this generation’s players don’t necessarily hold a grudge against the owners for doing what they did last time, but they simply don’t want to see another lockout—of any length of time—occur again:

“You know what, they did what they felt was right,” said Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider, who was in college at the time. “They didn’t feel they had a deal that was fair to them and they made the ultimate sacrifice. I think we’re in a better place now from a players’ standpoint than we would have been than if they had caved and accepted the deal presented and tried to play the rest of that year.”

There is hope that the past won’t have to be repeated to get something done this time. Under the current CBA, the NHL has seen its revenues grow from US$2.1 billion annually to roughly $3.3 billion. And there’s very little to suggest that the trend won’t continue.

“The league’s doing really well,” said St. Louis Blues forward David Backes. “There’s been increased revenues—record revenues—every year. It’s on a track that seems like almost exponential growth, to halt that would be a shame on both sides. We’re looking for something that’s fair, we’re not looking to clean house.”

The players feel that Donald Fehr’s presence is nothing for fans to fear, and instead, that he’s restored the sense of the NHLPA being what it should be, a functioning labor union…

“It’s like we’ve been taught again what the definition of collective bargaining is and why there are unions and why people collectively bargain,” said Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Steve Montador. “It’s been a great reset.”

A number of young players are taking an interest in the process. Not only is the 21-year-old [John] Tavares a budding star in the league, but he’s also the Islanders’ union representative and the youngest player to show up in Chicago this week. Veteran teammates Doug Weight, Marty Reasoner and Rick DiPietro have preached to him about the importance of getting involved during his three years in the NHL. He’s trying to stay positive as the union gets set to embark on another round of negotiations.

“You never ever want to miss a day, let alone miss a whole season,” said Tavares. “It’s something that would be really hard to even think about.”

For those who’ve already dealt with it once, it’s not something that can be easily forgotten. The wounds are still a little fresh for some players even though seven years have passed since the lockout.

“Looking back on it, we made a lot of huge concessions—losing a season not to mention (the deal itself),” said veteran Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers. “The fact is the league’s seen seven years of revenue growth. At the end of the day, we’re going to have to come to an agreement.”

So now they move forward, and hopefully move toward a deal that’s fair for the players, owners, and especially the fans:

“We have a few months ahead here to reach a deal and that’s our goal,” New York Islanders star John Tavares said Tuesday.

As Sportsnet’s Michael Grange suggests, the fact that players like Tavares, who were kids during the second owners’ lockout, are taking part is incredibly positive as well. Tavares didn’t quite understand what was going on in 2004, but he’s learning now:

“There was no hockey to watch … and all I really knew was that they were having problems with the business side of the game,” said Tavares, now a grizzly 21-year-old with three NHL seasons to his name. “I didn’t know any of the topics or any of the values and what they all meant, I couldn’t even understand it if someone tried to explain it to me, I don’t think. At that time I just wanted hockey to come back.”

It’s too early to predict if a new generation of fans are going to have their own rude awakening regarding the business side of professional sports come this September, but this time around Tavares—having made it to the NHL just as he’d dreamed—will at least have his say.

The NHL has increasingly become a league where young stars can dominate on the ice and Tavares is one of them, having led the New York Islanders in scoring every year since he was the No.1 pick in the 2009 draft. But Tavares is determined to have a significant off-ice role as well. He’s the youngest NHLPA team player representative by far and one of the few cases where a franchise’s marquee player has thrown himself into the heart of the process of negotiating a new CBA to take the place of the one that expires Sept. 15.

The heavy lifting begins Friday when it’s expected the NHL and its players will meet for their first round of collective bargaining. The player reps who form the executive board will nominate a negotiating committee with at least 30 members. It is expected to be announced Wednesday, but whether Tavares is on it or not he plans to be fully engaged.

“I’m one of the young guys but I’m trying to be one of the leaders and play a big role and be someone that guys can look up to and ask questions,” he said after participating in nine hours of meetings at a Chicago hotel Tuesday, going over everything from the association’s internal finances to negotiating strategies they plan to take to the NHL. “With (the Islanders) we have a pretty young team so it’s important for us to be involved and aware of what’s happening.”

Youth means optimism and between that and it being the early stages of what could be a long negotiating process, Tavares—like most of his peers—is hopeful that the two sides can find a way to share the record $3.2 billion in revenue the NHL raked in this past season without delaying the start of the upcoming season or worse.

“The feeling is positive. We feel really good as a union, as players working together. We’re looking forward to working with the league,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to keep working on issues of the game and keep growing the game as best we can.”

As Grange suggests, that optimism might be short-lived once NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, assistant commissioner and author of the last CBA Bill Daly and the NHL’s vicious outside legal counsel from Proskauer & Rose, including the aptly-named Bob Batterman, meet Fehr and the players on Friday, but we’re at least going into these negotiations without the same sense of inevitable doom that preceded the lockouts in 1994 and 2004.

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MsRedWinger's avatar

Keeping fingers crossed…

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 06/27/12 at 10:14 AM ET

SYF's avatar

This union is so streamlined and organized under Fehr.  He has done a truly remarkable job of keeping lines of communication wide open for discussions.  I’ve never seen a union use new technology to this level.  Not saying that the other athletic unions don’t do the same, but the capability afforded by new technology to unite the players and get them on the same page is astonishing.

Hats off to Fehr in that respect.

Posted by SYF from Twerkin' with Anastasia Ashley on 06/27/12 at 02:56 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.