Players prep for formal CBA talks
A group of 55 players met Tuesday to discuss strategy ahead of CBA negotiations
The players union is slated to announce its negotiating committee Wednesday
CHICAGO (AP) -- NHL players are getting a better grasp on the issues at hand as the union braces for negotiations with owners on a new collective bargaining agreement.
For the 55 players in attendance, Tuesday was an educational day. They broke off into three groups to study the issues and share their ideas as they try to hammer out a strategy before formal talks begin.
"We had a lot of good discussions about where our priorities are," Washington Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said. "That's kind of why it broke down into the groups, just trying to educate ourselves a little bit more. A smaller group, it's going to be talk and share ideas."
They have been meeting in Chicago, where three days of meetings are scheduled to wrap up on Wednesday. That is when the union says it will announce its negotiating committee, with more than 30 players expected to serve.
Players association executive director Don Fehr said Monday that negotiations on a new CBA will begin "very quickly" - perhaps as early as this week.
Exactly how the sides approach the talks remains to be seen, but the players are mindful of what they gave up last time.
The NHL canceled the 2004-05 season before a deal was reached that included a salary cap for the first time. The current CBA expires Sept. 15.
"We gave a number of concessions last time that cost us a season," veteran Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador said. "Nobody wants to miss a season of hockey - the players, the fans, the owners. The game has made too many positive strides in the last seven years. But at the same time, with the growth of the game and the way it's been and the concessions we've made before, we have a lot to look forward to and a lot of room to work to get a new deal done.
"We have issues that we want to stand on, and we have to be able to represent that."
Teammate Jamal Mayers said the canceled season seven years ago was a wakeup call.
"That was difficult as a player," he said. "No one wants to see that happen. Clearly, we're excited about the direction Don gives us and his wealth of experience."
The landscape is different this time.
The players are now being led by Fehr, the former head of the powerful baseball union. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said last month that the league had record revenues in excess of $3.1 billion, although he wouldn't say what the profit was.
How the revenue gets divided figures to be a big sticking point as the NHL tries to avoid becoming the third major league in recent memory 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 has shown signs that he won't be a pushover.
The players association scuttled the league'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.
Now, they appear to be digging in.
"We're ready to have all guys be prepared to be involved," New York Islanders center John Tavares said. "I know a lot of the guys have been talking and asking questions and looking toward this. I know we're all going to be there together."
There will also be more regional meetings in Europe and North America in the next few months to educate the players.
"You've got to look out for yourselves and your players and your union," Brouwer said. "Obviously, 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."
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