Thomas Vanek’s time in Europe is up. Labor negotiations today in New York could determine whether the other Sabres playing overseas will also come back to Buffalo.
The NHL and its players’ association are set to make a long-awaited return to the bargaining table. The sides haven’t met formally since an hourlong meeting Oct. 18 that ended with each side furious at the other.
A light thaw in the lockout came Saturday when NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly met with Steve Fehr, special counsel to the NHLPA. The duo talked past midnight about several divisive issues and made enough progress that a larger group is convening in Manhattan.
There’s no way a deal will be consummated today – the sides remain far apart on primary and secondary collective bargaining issues – but cordial, productive talks could bring hope that the NHL will return in December.
Vanek hopes so. The Sabres’ forward headed back to Buffalo on Monday after playing in Austria for a month. His contract with Graz has expired.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience and I will never forget this month,” Vanek wrote on his Website, ThomasVanek.at. “Now it’s cross your fingers so we have NHL hockey back soon!”
Vanek recorded five goals and 15 points in 11 games in his homeland. He wrote that he was eager to get home to his wife and three children but did not close the door on returning to Austria if labor talks falter.
“There’s good, fast hockey played here in Austria,” wrote Vanek, who is one of seven Sabres to sign overseas. “My decision to come to play here was the right one. I really don’t know how things are going to unfold in the next weeks. ... I want to wait how the negotiations between league and PA are going. It seems as if things are going forward a bit.”
The NHL has reportedly altered its “make whole” provision, an item in its previous proposal that led to much debate.
The union expects all contracts to be honored at 100 percent of their signed value, but the league’s desire to split revenues 50-50 makes that mathematically impossible. The league’s prior offer had contracts made whole in subsequent years after an initial drop, but the mechanism in place essentially had players paying themselves. The NHL reportedly has agreed to pay at least part of the make whole provision.
The sides also have several debates ahead in regards to players’ contractual rights, including free agency, entry-level contracts and salary cap issues.
The NHL lockout, which began Sept. 16 and has led to the cancellation of all games through Nov. 30, is in its 52nd day.
While Vanek is done playing in Europe, Jhonas Enroth is finally starting.
The Sabres’ backup goaltender has signed with Almtuna in Sweden. His contract runs through Jan. 6, but likely has a termination clause should the lockout end.