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Optimism vanishes as NHL rejects latest offer from players

December 06, 2012|By Lisa Dillman
  • NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, with Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in the background, gives a grim report of the labor negotiating session Thursday.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, with Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in the… (Mary Altaffer / Associated…)

This, quite clearly, was a day (and night) to remember for those closely following NHL labor negotiations.

Or forget.

Thursday surpassed often perplexing talks with a surreal turn of events in New York. It started with an optimistic read on the negotiations from Donald Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players Assn., with the veteran labor leader saying he felt the sides were close to a deal.

But just as Fehr was addressing the media, the league, apparently, was leaving a voice mail for his brother, Steve Fehr, rejecting the players' latest offer. This prompted a second news briefing from the union.

Not much later came a lengthy session from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who was visibly agitated and angered, according to those in the room. Near the end of his briefing, a handful of NHL players stood in the back of the room to listen to him.

And finally, there were long statements from four of the NHL owners involved in the negotiating process this week in New York.

In short, there was no clear sign of where exactly this is heading next. Big picture: More game cancellations are sure to come soon with the league careening toward yet another missed season.

"I am disappointed beyond belief we are where we are tonight," Bettman told reporters in New York, calling it an "emotional roller-coaster."

Said Donald Fehr: "There has been a development. It's not a positive one. We were advised in a  voice-mail message that the moves the players made were not acceptable. There was no reason to stay around for meetings tonight or tomorrow.

"That they would be in touch. Something, everything -- that's not clear -- is off the table. We're don't know what that means. ... What can we tell the hockey fans of Canada? It looks like this is not going to be resolved in the immediate future.

"I hope that turns out to be wrong. But that's certainly what the message is that we have today. That's notwithstanding the fact that we are clearly very close, if not on top of one another, in connection with most of the major issues."

Close, of course, was in the eye of the beholder.

The league declared that items it put on the table this week were now off of it, including the element of "make-whole payments."

Bettman sounded more angry the longer he spoke to the media, a session lasting close to 40 minutes. He spoke of the NHL owners' mood at the quickly deteriorating turn of events, starting with talks on Wednesday night.

The new owners in the talks "wanted to push ahead and do something bold,” Bettman said. “What they did was, among other things, virtually put a new $100 million on the table on Wednesday night, in the hopes that it would help show we wanted to get back and play ... as quickly as possible.

"The union’s response was shockingly silent, in terms of their reaction. The owners were besides themselves. Some of them I had never seen that emotional. They said they don’t know what happened but this process is over. Clearly the union doesn’t want to make a deal.”

Four team governors had been brought in to lend fresh voices and new perspectives to negotiations, and Toronto's Larry Tannenbaum reflected Bettman's dismay at the way the week unfolded.

"I understand how important it is to have a strong league and 30 healthy teams," Tannenbaum said in statements released by the NHL. "I must admit that I was shocked at how things have played out over the last 48 hours. The sessions on Tuesday felt cooperative with an air of goodwill. I was optimistic and conveyed my optimism to the Board of Governors at our Wednesday meeting.

"However, when we reconvened with the players on Wednesday afternoon, it was like someone had thrown a switch. The atmosphere had completely changed. Nevertheless, the owners tried to push forward and made a number of concessions and proposals, which were not well-received. I question whether the union is interested in making an agreement.

"I am very disappointed and disillusioned. Had I not experienced this process myself, I might not have believed it. Like all hockey fans, I am hopeful this situation can be resolved as soon as possible. I miss our game."

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