Penguins star Sidney Crosby (center) listens as Donald Fehr, the players'… (Chris Young / Associated…)
Two days of cautious optimism on the NHL labor front came to a screeching halt Thursday when the league summarily dismissed a trio of counteroffers made by the players' association during a negotiating session in Toronto that broke off after little more than an hour.
"It's clear we're not even speaking the same language in terms of what they came back to us with," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking to reporters in Toronto.
Bettman had spearheaded the latest round of negotiations Tuesday by offering the players a new proposal revolving around a 50-50 split of league revenue that the league said was designed to salvage the full 82-game regular season.
Instead, the players rejected Bettman's complex offer. Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Assn., spent two days canvassing the rank and file before coming up with three new ideas, all of which Bettman deemed insufficient to close the gap between the two sides.
"Today is not a good day. It should have been. But it's not," said Fehr, who was flanked by a handful of players in his media briefing after talks ended.
The NHL locked out its players on Sept. 15, after the last collective bargaining agreement expired. Training camps were postponed, and 82 regular-season games already have been canceled. With no further negotiations scheduled, Bettman suggested the next step would be canceling more games, and that move could come as early as Friday.
Bettman's contention that the sides were speaking a different language rang true, given the dueling news conferences that took place once the meetings ended. Bettman suggested the players' proposals came nowhere near the 50-50 split that the league requires.
Fehr, in contrast, suggested that in the NHLPA's first scenario, the goal of a 50-50 split, would be achieved by the third year of the agreement; that in the second scenario, it would be done by Year 5; and in the third, it would be 50-50 immediately provided that the owners honor all current contracts up to 100%.
Just how wide was the disconnect? The NHL took the unusual step of issuing a statement by Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, saying that the final NHLPA offer is "being misrepresented. It is not a 50-50 deal. It is, most likely a 56- to 57% deal in Year 1 and never gets to 50% during the proposed five-year term of the agreement.
"In effect, the union is proposing to change the accounting rules to be able to say '50-50' when in reality it is not so," Daly said. "The union told us that they had not yet run the numbers. We did."
Fehr argued that his side made "real concessions in terms of reducing their share of HRR [hockey-related revenue], with some small degree of protection. The players don't see any reason to take less in terms of dollars."
The NHL, by contrast, does. Bettman's goal is to reduce the players' current share of overall revenue from its current level of 57% to 50%, mirroring givebacks occurring in the NBA and the NFL in the last 15 months. Fehr, former head of the major league baseball players' association, has repeatedly rejected any proposal that would see player salaries rolled back.
"The things players got from the last round of concessions, the owners now want to take away," Fehr said, speaking of issues such as free agency.