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NHL, NHLPA conclude second straight day of talks

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NHL, NHLPA conclude second straight day of talks

NEW YORK -- NHL Players' Association head Donald Fehr and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman held a second round of private talks on Saturday in an effort to move closer to an agreement that would end the ongoing lockout.

While negotiating teams from the union and the league discussed definitions of what makes up hockey-related revenue -- the pool of money the sides are trying to figure out how to split up -- Fehr and Bettman talked about the differences that are keeping the sides apart.

"I spent a few minutes with Gary talking about the overall situation, and we agreed to keep in touch," Fehr said Saturday outside of the NHL's New York office. "I am sure we will talk again (Sunday). I don't know whether will meet again (Sunday). That remains to be seen.

"I am not going to talk about the specifics, but in general we're trying to discuss how do we find a way to make an agreement. How do we bridge the gap on the major issues that are between us."

The sides met for about four hours before finishing for the day. They agreed to meet again on Sunday.

They talked for a second straight day on matters separate from the core economic issues that ultimately will have to be hammered out. In the recently expired collective bargaining agreement between the league and the union, the players received a 57 percent share of hockey-related revenue.

The NHL wants to cut the number down to under 50 percent in the new deal. The league imposed a lockout on Sept. 16, when the previous agreement ran out, and the sides didn't meet again until Friday.

"Their position on the big stuff has been that a major move consists of changing the players' share from a reduction of 24 percent to 17 12 percent," Fehr said. "Our initial proposal made a move in their direction. We have amplified that by giving them several different ideas to consider about how to lengthen the agreement to how to be more in line with what they wanted."

Fehr said discussing what exactly makes up hockey-related revenue is significant, because that will determine how much money is there to be divided.

Some progress was made on Friday on secondary issues related to player safety and drug testing, areas that weren't expected to be contentious. The league and union held two sessions then that totaled about five hours and included an initial meeting between Bettman and Fehr.

"I wish we had spent (Friday) on what we consider to be the more meaningful issues, but it is what it is," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said on Friday. "We really need to hear from the players' association on those. We need some kind of sign that they are prepared to compromise their economic position because we haven't had that since Aug. 14.

"We'll see if we get there."

At least they got back to talking -- which hadn't happened since a few days before the NHL locked out its players.

"It was a good day," Daly said. "We went through a lot of the areas we'd covered over the summer. We started closing off some agreements in some areas, and some continued areas of disagreements in others. It's part of the process."

All of the issues, big and small, must be ironed out before hockey can get out of the board room and back on the ice. So while the divisive topics still need to be tackled, the smaller ones have to be worked on, too.

"I don't want to use the adjective optimistic, but it was a productive discussion," NHL Players' Association special counsel Steve Fehr said on Friday. "We had a good session, and hopefully it will continue and build momentum."

The sides still aren't moving closer to a compromise while they talk about other issues.

And that is where the frustration lies. The NHL is waiting for the players' association to make a counterproposal to one the league made in the previous bargaining session more than two weeks ago.

"I don't think it's anybody's turn," Donald Fehr said Saturday. "If they have a good idea, I assume they will tell us. If we do, too, I certainly will not stand on ceremony."

But the NHL contends it has stated its position and needs the players' association to make what the league would consider a meaningful counter.

"We can't make them talk about what they don't want to talk about," Daly said. "In fairness, we do have to cover these issues if we're going to reach an agreement. What we're doing today is important, it's just not the most important things we can be doing.

"We've made at least two consecutive moves in significant dollars in their direction, and they haven't moved a single dollar in our direction since Aug. 4."

Former player Mathieu Schneider, now an NHLPA special assistant to the executive director, said Friday morning that there were agreements on more rigorous drug testing, expanding it to parts of the year during which testing is not currently done.

Neither side sees the use of performance-enhancing drugs as a problem in the NHL.

"We're in agreement that it's not an issue in our sport," Schneider said. "I think it's in the players' best interest as well as the sport to close off any possible time during the year where players could use."

Monetary issues are not expected to come up for discussion in this round of talks. Neither side has indicated it is prepared to make a new offer now regarding how to split up the more than 3 billion annual pot of hockey-related revenue.

"In general, when you're dealing with collective bargaining, when you start to have agreements on smaller issues, it can lead to bigger issues," Schneider said, "but it's still too early to say."

Saturday's talks came two days after the league canceled the remaining preseason games. The regular season is scheduled to start on Oct. 11.

If a deal isn't reached soon, regular-season games will be in danger of being lost. The NHL canceled the entire 2004-05 season because of a lockout that eventually led to the collective bargaining agreement that expired this month.

"The calendar continues to tick along," Daly said. "My guess is as time goes on, regular-season games are at risk. I don't think it can be any more urgent than where we are now. We've had that level of urgency for a long time. In some respects you can meet all you want, but if there is no compromise or no movement or no new proposals I am not sure at the end of the day what you're meeting over.

"There is a very high degree of urgency certainly on our side. I can't speak for their side, but I am sure they would tell you there is a degree of urgency there, too."

Steve Fehr contended that the players' association is willing to discuss any issues at any time to try to make a deal soon.

"We can discuss the core issues whenever they want to do it," he said. "Bargaining is not ping pong. There are no rules on who has to serve."
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Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Everything changed for the Bears after going up 17-3 last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell Trubisky’s 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims was immediately followed by Bobby Rainey running a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown, then the offense was bogged down with three fumbles (two lost) on three consecutive possessions. 

But Adrian Amos seemed to seal the game with his 90-yard pick six — that is, until Michael Campanaro ran Pat O’Donnell’s punt back 77 yards for what wound up being a game-tying touchdown after a two-point conversion.

The point is the Bears should’ve cruised to a comfortable win last week; a few critical mistakes didn’t allow that to happen. The Bears haven’t led at the end of the fourth quarter this year, a pretty strong indicator they haven’t played a complete game yet despite having two wins. 

The Carolina Panthers have road wins over the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots this year, and only lost to the Philadelphia Eagles by five points last week (despite Cam Newton throwing three interceptions). The bet here is the Bears keep things close on the backs of a strong defense, but either can’t make enough plays or make too many mistakes to win. 

Prediction: Panthers 20, Bears 16

Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

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Three and out: What Ron Rivera likes about Mitchell Trubisky played out this week

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera saw a lot of Mitchell Trubisky last year, with the North Carolina quarterback on TV quite a bit in the Charlotte area. The Panthers, set with Cam Newton, weren’t in the market for a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft, but Trubisky nonetheless stood out to the seventh-year Carolina coach and former Super Bowl-winning Bears linebacker. 

For Rivera, more than Trubisky’s arm strength and athleticism jumped off the screen. 

“Leadership,” Rivera pointed to. “When you watch him when he was playing — I love watching guys that either get on their teammates when they’re not doing it or they take accountability when they make a mistake. And you saw that with him.

“… We think the young man has got what it takes. We like who’s he’s gonna become. We do. We think the future can be bright for him. We are big fans here.”

Trubisky took accountability for both of his turnovers against the Minnesota Vikings: The interception Harrison Smith baited him into was certainly his fault, but his sack-strip fumble was more the result of Everson Griffen jumping the snap and blowing past left tackle Charles Leno. Against the Baltimore Ravens, Trubisky also lost a fumble on a sack-strip when cornerback Lardarius Webb hit him and dislodged the ball.

Trubisky’s explanation of that fumble was that he moved off his first read too quickly, causing him to miss Webb making a beeline for him in the backfield. But according to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, that fumble wasn’t the quarterback’s fault. 

“That’s because he’s a stud,” Loggains said of Trubisky taking responsibility for it. “We screwed the protection up. We should have been sliding to the guy. The guy should not have been coming free. That’s Mitch taking a bullet that he doesn’t need to take. The reality is he saw the guy coming and tried to get over to the check down quickly but we got to do a better job up front protecting him.”

But that Trubisky was willing to say he was at fault for that fumble plays into why he quickly gained the respect of the Bears’ the locker room. That’s what a quarterback should be doing when speaking to the media after the game — accepting responsibility and deflecting off his teammates, even if he’s not at fault. That kind of stuff doesn’t go unnoticed. 

Stopping Superman

Pernell McPhee offered this goal up for his fellow defensive teammates this week: Make sure Newton stays as Clark Kent on Sunday. 

“He’s a very talented guy, but the only thing I told the defense is let's make him be Cam Newton, not Superman,” McPhee said, referring to Newton’s signature touchdown move. “We don't want him opening up the cape.”

So how does a defense stop Newton from being Superman?

“He’s a very versatile quarterback,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “Obviously his running the ball, whether it be through his improvising with scrambling on called pass plays, or the called running plays they do have for him, that’s a strength for him. We can’t just focus on stopping that. We’ve gotta stop Cam Newton the passer and the runner. They’ve got good running backs they’re handing it off to and receivers and running backs he’s throwing it to, so you’ve got a total offense to stop.”

One point to note here: Newton threw three interceptions last week against the Philadelphia Eagles and had been picked off eight times this year. A Bears secondary that intercepted Joe Flacco twice last week could have some more shots at takeaways on Sunday. 

High praise

Sunday will mark Thomas Davis’ 156th game in the NFL, with the linebacker playing every one of those with the Carolina Panthers. He played for John Fox from 2005-2010. But where we’re going here is what he had to say about how the Bears run their offense with a rookie quarterback:

“I think this is probably the best running game that we’ve seen from an offense with a rookie quarterback,” Davis said. “You look at some of the other rookies that come in. Teams want to run the ball. But when you look at the physicality and the style of play that this team plays with, I think that really makes the job a lot easier for a young quarterback. So I definitely feel like that physicality in their running game is definitely going to help him out.”

The Bears ran the ball 50 times against a Baltimore Ravens defense that played a lot more Cover-2 than expected. With star linebacker Luke Kuechly out for Sunday, the Bears may try to use a similar strategy, even if Carolina loads the box more than Baltimore did (a little more than once one every three runs by Jordan Howard). 

But if the Bears’ offense is going to have success, it’s going to be behind Howard, Tarik Cohen and an improving offensive line. Maybe Davis’ comments are hyperbole, but he’s also played a lot more football than you and me.