NHL nixes union bid for talks

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NEW YORK — Forget about a deal to save a full hockey season: the NHL and the players’ association can’t even agree to get together to talk.

The union wants anything and everything open for discussion. The league says if the players aren’t willing to discuss the offer the NHL presented last week, and has no interest in presenting something new with that proposal as a framework, then there really is nothing to talk about.

It didn’t take long for the NHL to fire that message back Tuesday night after the union tried to convince the league to return to the bargaining table today.

“I don’t anticipate any (talks) taking place for the balance of the week,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email to The Associated Press. “The union has rejected the proposal we made last Tuesday and is not offering another one. We see nothing to be gained at this point by meeting just to meet.”

If that is the case, then there is no reasonable hope that a deal will be struck by Thursday — the deadline Commissioner Gary Bettman set in order to preserve a full 82-game season. Games have already been called off through Nov. 1, and those contests soon could be wiped off the schedule for good.

Following a conference call held by the union’s executive board on Tuesday night, the players’ association informed the NHL it is willing to meet on Wednesday “or any other date, without preconditions, to try to reach an agreement,” the union said in a statement.

The NHL’s response wasn’t what the union had hoped to hear.

The sides haven’t met since the league turned down three counterproposals from the union on Thursday, two days after the NHL’s offer that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue. The players’ association hasn’t shown an inclination to use that offer as a starting point in negotiations, resulting in a stalemate that could last for a while.

“The league is apparently unwilling to meet,” NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said in a statement. “That is unfortunate, as it is hard to make progress without talking.”

No talks have been scheduled, and no last-minute discussions seem to be on tap.

The developments on Tuesday night came hours after more discourse between the sides on the 38th day of the league’s lockout.

While negotiators for the NHL and union kept conversations to a minimum, club officials had a brief window last week to discuss the league’s latest proposal directly with their players.

Those secretive discussions didn’t produce a breakthrough, but they have inflamed an already unsettled atmosphere. The union hierarchy wasn’t informed about the window then, and isn’t happy about it.

“Most owners are not allowed to attend bargaining meetings,” Fehr said Tuesday. “No owners are allowed to speak to the media about the bargaining. It is interesting that they are secretly unleashed to talk to the players about the meetings the players can attend, but the owners cannot.”

The NHL said Tuesday that team officials were allowed to have temporary contact with players and there were parameters regarding what could be discussed.

“From our perspective, this is a nonissue and a nonstory,” Daly said Tuesday in an email to The Associated Press. “There is nothing — legally or otherwise — that precludes club personnel from communicating with their players.”

More important is the lack of productive talks between NHL officials and union leaders. Now it seems unlikely that a full season, which was slated to start Nov. 2, will take place.

Last week, the NHL’s most recent contract offer was presented to the union and then publicly released in full. The union returned to the bargaining table last Thursday with its various counterproposals, which also would get to an even split of hockey revenue, but each was quickly rejected by the league.

There is a major divide between the sides over how to deal with existing player contracts. The union wants to ensure that those are all paid in full without affecting future player contracts.

After the NHL released its offer on Wednesday, club officials were given until Friday to speak to players and answer questions they might have about the proposal.

In an internal league memo obtained by The Canadian Press, the NHL stated that those discussions must be limited to the contents of the proposal on the table. It also provided examples of questions that shouldn’t be asked of players and noted that straying from the rules could “cause serious legal problems.”

“You may not ask (a player) what he or others have in mind,” the memo stated. “If he volunteers what he has in mind you should not respond positively or negatively or ask any questions but instead refer him to the NHLPA.

“Likewise, you may not suggest hypothetical proposals that the league might make in the future or that the league might entertain from the union.”

This was the first time club officials were permitted by the NHL to talk to players since the lockout took effect Sept. 16.

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