September 13, 2012; New York, NY, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a press conference at the Crowne Plaza Times Square. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

NHLPA Puzzled as League Allows Owners to Communicate With Players

It would seem as if shenanigans are afoot in the NHL. Or at least, that is the sentiment of the NHLPA. The Players Association was taken aback on Tuesday as news broke that the NHL would allow some owners to converse with players for a window of 48 hours. These 48 hours would begin on Wednesday, October 17th and end Friday, October 19th at midnight.

Steve Fehr, the union’s special counsel, told the Canadian Press “Most owners are not allowed to attend bargaining meetings. 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.”

Now, this was not a blank check to discuss whatever they so choose. There were limitations to what they were allowed to discuss during this period of time. Here is the memo the NHL sent to its owners and GMs, courtesy of Yahoo Sports:

“We understand that some of you are being contacted by one or more of your Players and that your inability to respond substantively is creating some awkwardness in your relationships.

Accordingly, and only between now and 11:59 pm (local time) on Friday night (10/19), the NHL By-Law 17.17 prohibition will not be applied to conversations that result from you being contacted by your Players — PROVIDED, THAT ANY SUCH CONVERSATIONS ARE STRICTLY IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE RESTRICTIONS SET FORTH IN THIS MEMORANDUM. A failure to follow these rules can both set us back in our effort to resolve this work stoppage and cause serious legal problems and will be deemed a violation of NHL By-Law 17.17 (subject to appropriate penalties).

Therefore, please read these rules carefully and be certain that you adhere to them without exception.  They have been designed in light of the fact that the NHLPA is, in fact and in law, the sole collective bargaining representative of the Players and that any effort to motivate the Players must be to have them act through their union, not instead of or in opposition to it.

As a matter of labor law you are permitted to express the views and opinions of the Club and the League concerning the proposal currently on the table.

YOU MAY NOT: “Negotiate” with a Player.  This means you may not explore alternatives or variations to the proposals on the table from either side because that would be prohibited “direct dealing”.  You may not ask “What do you want?” or “What do the Players want?”  or “What should the League propose?”  If a Player tells you that he or others are trying to find a different approach, he should be told that all ideas and suggestions should be presented to the Union and not directly to you or anyone else in the League except through the Union.  You may not ask him what he or others have in mind.

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.”

Meanwhile, the NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has been downplaying the significance of the matter. “I’m not sure why that’s a big story,” Daly told ESPN.com. As another method of downplaying the move, he was quoted as saying “clubs received strict and unequivocal guidelines” on how they could communicate with the players.

What puzzles me about the situation is why the league failed to communicate their plans to the NHLPA? If this move is on the up and up as Daly says it is, why all the secrecy?

This all seems like a very unfortunate event that is doing nothing more than further the sideshow that this lockout has become. I can understand where each side is coming from. Both the NHL and the NHLPA have things that they hope to accomplish during these negotiations. However, they fail to see who else they are hurting in this debacle. Fans are left holding their hands in the air wondering when the sport that they have waited all these months for is going to start again. Furthermore, local businesses are seeing a decrease in business due to loss of traffic, and people who work for these venues are in fear of their jobs as the possibility of a season seems to diminish as the days linger on.

There have been no formal meetings scheduled by either side this week. Unfortunately, before this three-ring circus can end, there is going to have to be some give on both sides. Until they get serious about sitting down and hammering out their differences, the Lightning will not strike this season.

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