Another distraction in the NHL and NHL Players’ Association bargaining process popped up Tuesday when it was revealed that the NHL had sent a memo to its general managers to give them a 48-hour window last week to talk to players who had questions about the owners’ position.
Except for during that period, the NHL has forbidden its teams from having any contact with players.
In the memo, obtained by USA TODAY Sports, the league gave GMs permission from Wednesday evening until Friday at 11:59 p.m. to talk to players provided they followed strict guidelines. The memo included 10 things GMs could not do in discussions with players, including doing anything that could be perceived as negotiating,making any statement that could be perceived as coercive or making a threat, or making any comment about the NHLPA.
According to the strongly worded memo, GMs were also forbidden from asking players “about their support for the union and/or its bargaining position” or asking players “their opinion regarding the NHL’s bargaining position.”
The guidelines “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,” the memo said.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the memo was issued “because players were calling to ask questions on the proposal.”
The NHLPA issued this statement from second-in-command Steve Fehr: “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.”
News of the memo comes as the two sides remain stalemated on talks to end the 38-day lockout that has delayed the start of the 2012-13 NHL season. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said a new deal must be reached by Thursday to have any chance of holding a full 82-game season.
But, as of Tuesday morning, no new talks were scheduled.
The memo included sample questions that might come from players about the owners’ last offer and the politically correct way they should be answered.
For example, the memo said players might ask:
“I want to be sure that I’ll be paid the face value of my contract – the amount the club agreed to pay when it signed me. Why won’t the club stand by its agreement?
The suggested answer: “In our system nobody is ever ‘guaranteed’ to receive the face amount of their contract. That’s a function of escrow. It’s in your interest, and the league’s interest, to maximize our revenue; as that grows, your compensation grows. But we have proposed a mechanism whereby players can be made whole through deferred compensation for the face value of existing contracts for the next two years to the extent aggregate compensation is lower in those two years than it was last year because of the 50-50 allocation of league-wide revenues”.
Another suggested question: Why is this the last chance to preserve an 82-game season?
The NHL’s provided answer: “We can’t compress the schedule any more … and we can’t have the season run into July.”
On what happens if the NHLPA doesn’t accept the owners’ final offer, the memo suggested this answer:
You have to make your own determination as to what you think is best but I can’t imagine everyone won’t be worse off if we can’t have a full season. I can tell you that the lockout will remain in place until there is a new CBA .Obviously, the loss of games means the loss of player salaries and league-wide revenues. That can’t be made up and that will make it more difficult to reach a deal because everyone loses.”
The league urged team officials who talked to players to send a quick summary of their conversations to Daly or Bettman.