Donald Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players' Association, says he stopped drawing a salary on July 1 and a source told The Canadian Press that commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly plan to follow suit if a new agreement can't be reached by Sept. 15.
It's a practice Fehr adhered to during his time at baseball's union and one his predecessor at the NHLPA, Bob Goodenow, also followed when the 2004-05 season was wiped out by a lockout.
"It's both a measure of solidarity and uniformity of interest," Fehr said Thursday in an interview. "You want the players to understand you're in the same boat they are — you don't have interests different than they do. We think it's important."
For Bettman and Daly, it marks a different approach from the last round of negotiations. They were each paid through the 2004-05 lockout.
On Thursday, Daly declined to confirm directly that he and Bettman would stop being paid, but said "the assumption that high-ranking league executives will continue to receive a salary during a lockout is not necessarily accurate."
Another lockout is growing more likely with each passing day.
However, the NHL and NHLPA both indicated Thursday night that the stalled talks are on the verge of resuming, possibly as early as Friday. The sides haven't sat across from one another since last week, when an offer by the NHL prompted the union to counter with changes to a previous proposal tabled last month.
Bettman was unhappy they didn't come back with a more formal offer and suggested that it would be up to the union to make a move to restart talks. However, Daly clarified that it wouldn't necessarily have to come in the form of a proposal.
"I think we've made it clear that we don't think it's incumbent on us to make the next proposal," said Daly. "We continue to feel that we made a very significant proposal last week and we're not prepared to negotiate against ourselves at this point."
The sides have continued a dialogue throughout the week, with Daly and Steve Fehr — the union's special counsel — having dinner together Wednesday night.
Part of the discussion has been centred around how best to restart talks. The most recent bargaining sessions have been limited to the top executives from each side, with the larger negotiating committees left outside the room.
"There have been some informal discussions about when and under what circumstances (we should talk) and what should the group look like and so on," said Donald Fehr.
Even with the sides willing to restart formal negotiations, Daly acknowledged that it was "becoming unlikely" an agreement could be signed in time for training camps to open as scheduled on Sept. 21.
All signs point to the league's fourth work stoppage in 20 years, including the Winnipeg Jets decision to send a note to season ticket holders and corporate partners Thursday advising them that contingencies have been put in place should a lockout lead to the cancellation of games.
The NHL grew from a US$2.1-billion industry to one that makes $3.3 billion annually in just seven years under the CBA that will expire next weekend. Daly believes the lack of progress in talks has already caused "significant" damage to the momentum the league was enjoying.
"We're doing the best we can to reach an agreement and we'll continue to do the best we can to reach an agreement," he said. "We've already damaged our business and I would imagine if we go past the 15th and engage in a work stoppage that will obviously do further damage to our business. ...
"Our business partners have been expressing concern with respect to the uncertainty created by the labour situation."
The NHL appears poised to follow the NBA and NFL, which were both shut down during negotiations for their most recent collective bargaining agreements. During the NFL lockout last year, commissioner Roger Goodell and league general counsel Jeff Pash had their salaries slashed to $1 each.
A source indicated Bettman and Daly are prepared to do something similar — providing league owners with significant savings. The Sports Business Daily recently reported that Bettman was paid $7.98 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011 while Daly earned $2.85 million.
The players pay Fehr around $3 million per year, although he indicated Thursday that he'd likely to take the same percentage of pay cut they end up receiving in the next CBA.
In the meantime, he's chosen not to be paid at all while working through a busy summer of negotiations and player meetings.
"I went off salary as of July 1 because that's our fiscal year," said Fehr. "You do that because unfortunately there was a season-long lockout (last time), so if God forbid something like that happens again, I didn't want to have been paid for any part of the year."