NEWARK -- Talks regarding a new collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association are expected to begin in a few weeks, according to league commissioner Gary Bettman. He spoke before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday night at Prudential Center.
"We also look forward to finally beginning meetings with the Players' Association," Bettman said. "The goal obviously is to reach a collective bargaining agreement that can take the game and the business to even higher levels than have been reached over the past seven seasons."
"For obvious reasons, I'm not going to go into any detail on this topic since we have yet to formally begin discussions with the Union. However, I understand that the Union is now prepared to begin talks and we're in the process of trying to set up dates. My guess is in the next few weeks we will begin, either in small groups or larger groups, to set the table of what we each might want to be talking about."
The league has said numerous times that they've been ready to begin talks, but new NHLPA chief Donald Fehr has spent the last several months meeting with players and simply getting to know the league, the current CBA that governs its play and the way things work in the hockey world.
But in a seemingly impromptu press conference immediately following Bettman's on Wednesday, Fehr confirmed that those talks will begin in the coming weeks.
"I'm sure it'll be started in the next few weeks," Fehr said, "and I would not confuse sort of a big, formal kickoff session with sort of the start of bargaining because of all the informal stuff. Gary referred to smaller meetings, too. Can go on."
How does this whole thing work, though? It's not as if the two sides show up at a big table one day and start hammering out details. Fehr explained that it's a process that's worked through in a number of different ways, and that generally speaking, things are taken one step at a time.
"In the ordinary course of things, we'll have preliminary discussions," he said. "Out of that, we will get an order. We might have somebody say, all right, here's everything I'm thinking about. The other side, you might say we're going to talk about this issue, what do we think, then we're going to talk about this one, then we're going to talk about this one. There's no magic formula to it."
Fehr expressed the hope that there won't be any sort of work stoppage, citing the record revenues the league has seen this season. Meanwhile, Bettman laughed off potential lockout concerns as baseless and speculative considering the two parties have yet to actually meet in any way meaningful way to discuss the CBA.
"If somebody is suggesting it," Bettman said, "it's either because there's something in the water, people still have the NBA and NFL on the brain, or they're just looking for news on a slow day. It is nothing more than speculation at this point. There can't be any substance to it because there haven't been any substantive conversations."
Finally, those substantive conversations have what appears to be a time table.