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NHLPA finishes executive board meetings

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The National Hockey League Players' Association wrapped up its annual executive board meetings at the Peninsula Hotel on Wednesday afternoon and released its list of 31 players named to the negotiating committee, which will soon begin labor negotiations.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement with the League ends Sept. 15 and the National Hockey League and the NHLPA are expected to start negotiating shortly, possibly as soon as the end of this week, according to Donald Fehr, the NHLPA's executive director.

Fehr, standing in front of 28 players, held a press briefing to address the pending talks. Throughout the three days of sessions, the 56 players who attended met for several briefings.

"We spent a lot of time during the last two days discussing all of the relevant issues that we expect may come up during course of negotiations, as well as a number of items which might be more of the ordinary businesses of association," Fehr said.

As far as the upcoming negotiations, Fehr said his organization is encouraged by the growth of the game and the increase in League-wide revenues. "I think when we approach these negotiations, the object is to get a deal done which can continue that momentum and continue it uninterrupted," he said. "We certainly hope to do that."

Fehr did not discuss much of what the union talked about during its meetings. However, players talked in generalities about the process and seemed to come away from the three-day session feeling better informed on issues. In particular, the breakout sessions held Tuesday that allowed players to voice concerns in a small-group setting were most popular among players.

"Coming away from this week here, the biggest thing was the encouragement of discussion amongst each other," said Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan, one of the members of the NHLPA's negotiating committee. "There was really a lot of discussion amongst each other [about] things that need to happen and things that we need and things ... that are important to us as a membership. I think the discussion was the biggest part of it."

New York Islanders star John Tavares and Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews felt the same.

Neither player was in the NHL the previous time there were labor negotiations, but they are now two of the most recognizable faces in the game. Tavares is also part of the official negotiating committee, which Fehr said will likely work in a rotation of less than 10 members for each bargaining session.

"The [executive board] meetings are long and there's a lot that goes on, but I hope to play for a long time and this is obviously a big part of my future and [the future of] any other young guys in the League," Tavares said. "I'm trying to be there for those guys and inform those guys.

"Being here, I think, helps me translate the message -- and when it's something as important as this, it's real easy to be here and learn and be a part of our staff and listen to [Fehr], with his experience and knowledge."

Toews isn't on the official negotiating committee but said he still plans to attend future informational meetings and stay abreast of the situation from a first-hand perspective.

"I'm going to take in as much as I can," Toews said. "Every guy across the League should. It concerns every single guy. To sit around at home and leave these discussions and issues that come up in the hands of another guy ... if you have something on your mind, that's what these meetings are for -- to voice things.

"Sometimes you have ideas, but you never really think outside the box until you hear an idea from another player and you consider how that could be good, too. It's a good thing to do."

As for the pending start of negotiations, Tavares said it will be good just to get the process under way.

"Everybody really is anxious to see where things are headed," he said. "We definitely are and we're excited about growing the game and getting an agreement that's going to benefit everybody moving forward. It's about to start and we're looking forward to it."

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