The NHL and the players’ association met for a third straight day Sunday, and again avoided the troublesome money issues that are fueling the ongoing lockout.
“We did not discuss core economic issues, as was the plan,” NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said after meeting for five hours with the NHL. “We discussed health and safety, drug testing, including more discussion of drug testing, medical care etc. Also a number of things in the CBA legal area of player movements.”
The drug policy was a key component of talks Friday when the sides got together for the first time since the NHL imposed the lockout on Sept. 16.
On Saturday, the sides focused on clarifications of definitions of what makes up hockey-related revenue — a pot that exceeded $3 billion.
“It was a productive day. We made some progress in some areas,” Fehr said Sunday. “I would say it’s good that we were talking. It’s true that we could’ve done this last week or a week before or a week before that, but it’s a lot better than doing it three weeks from now.”
Because of difficulty in finding common ground on how to split up that money, the league and union instead concentrated all weekend on secondary issues that will also be included in any new agreement.
“I hate to sound like a broken record, but we need some movement on the economic issues. We need some movement on the system issues,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “We need them to be scheduled as the subject of a meeting, and right now the union is not prepared to do that.”
Negotiations on Sunday were conducted at the league office without NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. They met privately Friday and Saturday, away from the other group negotiations.
“I think that may demonstrate more than anything else the nature of the issues we’re talking about,” Daly said about the absences of Bettman and Donald Fehr. “We’re really talking about kind of micro issues, issues we deal with on a day-to-day basis that don’t necessarily rise to the commissioner’s level or the executive director’s level.
“So they will be at the table when we’re talking about the issues that are really going to get this deal done or not.”
There was a thought that talks might continue Monday, but that doesn’t seem likely as the NHL wants to meet internally with its clubs before getting back together with the players’ association.
“We covered a lot of things over the last three days,” Daly said. “We both have a lot of homework projects to do and drafts we owe each other on certain things. We think (Monday) would be best used for that purpose.
“What we did today, and the last two days, I don’t think any of that is going to get a deal done. But they are all necessary elements of the deal.”
There is no timetable for talks to resume, but Tuesday is a possibility.
The entire preseason slate of games was cancelled by the NHL on Thursday, and regular-season games — scheduled to begin Oct. 11 — could soon be called off, too.
The NHL cancelled the entire 2004-05 season because of a lockout that eventually led to the collective bargaining agreement that expired this month.
By working on secondary agreements now, the sides are ahead of where they were back in 2005 when a deal was finally finished.
“All the stuff we’ve done the last three days were things we did after we had resolved the economic issues, and this one is not playing out that way,” Daly said. “We’ll have to see how it plays out.”