NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly was scheduled to have dinner with NHL Players' Association second-in-command Steve Fehr Wednesday night to discuss some joint projects and procedural issues.
It's not a negotiating session, but certainly both men have to expect that the stalemated talks to come up in conversation.
"I expect to talk to Steve about issues," Daly said in a phone interview with USA TODAY Sports. "I expect to have to have beer and dinner and we will see how that goes."
Even with the NHL planning to lock out players on Sept. 15, there are currently no new formal negotiating sessions scheduled
"I don't think panic is right terminology," Daly said. "I hope no one is panicked. Having said that I do believe, based on the response we got on Friday, the concern we had about Sept. 15 not being a real deadline for the players and players association is probably more likely to be accurate. They certainly aren't acting as if it's a deadline."
Negotiations ceased last Friday after the owners viewed the NHLPA's response to their second proposal as a tweak of the union's original proposal, rather than a true counter-proposal. Commissioner Gary Bettman accused the NHLPA of stonewalling.
Earlier in the week, the NHL had proposed a six-year plan that would reduce the players' share of revenue from 57 percent to 50% in a phase-in plan. The 50% is actually 46% by how revenue is now defined. Part of the owners' proposal is to slightly alter, in the owners' favor, how revenue is counted.
In the NHLPA original proposal, players agreed to take less of anticipated future growth for three years in the name of helping financially stressed teams. Under the NHLPA plan, the players would return to receiving 57% in the fourth year.
On Friday, the NHLPA offered three new ideas they would be willing to discuss about how their share of revenue could be determined in the fourth year. But the NHL bargaining team didn't view the NHLPA offer as significant movement.
"We certainly haven't dismissed the structure of their proposal," Daly said. "In fact, the proposal we gave them last week in some respect embraced the structure of their proposal. It obviously wasn't good enough to elicit a counter proposal. That is where we are."
On Wednesday, the NHL officially canceled the NHL/NHLPA media tour, which is designed to maximize exposure for the league's top players. Last month, the Detroit Red Wings canceled their annual rookie tournament at Traverse City, Mich. That affected eight teams.
On Wednesday, the NHLPA sent a memo to the players, detailing their rights during a lockout.
The owners picked Sept. 15 as the date of the lockout because that's when the current collective bargaining agreement expires. As the NHLPA often points out, there is no rule that says players have to be locked out out if there is no contract. But with no pressure on either side this summer, there has been no true progress.
Although there are many issues in play, it seems as if what the negotiations are primarily about the NHL owners trying to reduce players' share of the revenue from 57% to near 50%. The other major issue will be length of contract. Owners are dug in on a longer contract because they want to go through this any time soon. Players prefer a shorter contract because, as NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr points out, the economics of the game could change dramatically.
"We continue to meet internally and we will try to be as creative as we can be in finding new ways to attack this," Daly said. "At this point, it's fair to say we are stalled at least temporarily."
Fans, meanwhile, are organizing protests. The fans clearly want to see the sides in a room negotiating.
"To get into a room and stare at each other without any kind of agenda, I'm not sure that advances the ball much," Daly said. "As long as the lines of communication are open and they are not being artificially shut down, then that's the most you can ask for in a situation like this. So if someone does have a good idea, or an agenda, or a reason to meet I'm sure we will be meeting."
By Kevin Allen, USA TODAY