Six NHL players will sit face-to-face with six NHL owners today. Ryan Miller hopes he’s one of those players.
It might give him a better idea of how, or if, the lockout will end.
“I can’t make sense of what the owners truly need because they want everything,” the Buffalo Sabres goaltender wrote Monday during an exchange of text messages. “That is why it seems like the finish line is moving.”
Miller is part of a large group of players who are gathering in New York City as negotiations resume between the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association. In a new dynamic, six owners and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly will meet with a half-dozen players and union special counsel Steve Fehr. The leaders of the respective sides, Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr, will not take part.
“I don’t entirely agree with leaving the heads of negotiation out of this because they are paid to make a deal,” Miller wrote. “But if it gets more owners involved then so be it.”
Owners Ronald Burkle of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mark Chipman of the Winnipeg Jets, Jeffery Vinik of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Larry Tanenbaum of the Toronto Maple Leafs will join regular league negotiators Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins and Murray Edwards of the Calgary Flames at the table. The NHLPA has not yet announced which players will take part in talks.
“A lot of guys want the opportunity,” Miller wrote. “I hope we all get a better feel of what each side truly needs. On our side anyone can talk to the media or attend meetings, so I am hopeful that having more owners join the conversation we can get somewhere and break up this monopoly 4-5 owners have had on deal making.
“I am really disappointed that no moderate owners have stopped the madness. Hopefully they will after the board of governors convene.”
This figures to be another important week for the labor stalemate. In addition to today’s gathering, the NHL’s Board of Governors will meet Wednesday. Plus, more games are expected to be canceled Friday if a collective-bargaining agreement is not in place.
“There has been a deal available for months,” Miller wrote. “We all expected things to fall into a negotiation after reaching 50/50 [with regard to splitting revenue] but it hasn’t. The owners want too much from us and we have to make a stand. We appreciate the chance to play in the NHL but we have to protect our players.”
The sides have gotten closer in terms of finances, but contracting rights have become a major roadblock. The NHL’s most recent proposals would increase the age for free agency, limit contract lengths and control how much salaries fluctuate from year to year.
The plan, in theory, would put a drag on players’ second contracts. “I am confused by the hard line on contracting,” Miller wrote. “My only guess is Gary wants to limit general managers so he won’t have anymore loophole type surprises in this CBA. I understand that position to the extent you don’t want contracts to cripple a team, but they are really taking away team building as a skill. Skilled GMs will have to identify how to balance a budget instead of building a well-balanced winner.
“What I haven’t heard anyone talking about is the fact that under the NHL proposal the NHL becomes a two-tier salary league. The middle class is gone and that means shorter careers and in my opinion mediocre hockey.”
Last month, Miller told Toronto’s Globe and Mail that the lockout has been more about “brand suicide” than negotiating. He figures the NHL believes that everyone will just forget about the lockout once games resume.
“I think they are counting on people to have short memories,” Miller wrote. “Just like politicians who flip-flop on an issue, the owners believe the fans will return and be caught up in hockey …[and] everything forgiven or at least forgotten once pucks drop.”