NHL rejects players' latest offer, negotiations break off

NHL rejects players' latest offer, negotiations break off
December 6, 2012, 6:00 pm
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Commissioner Gary Bettman was not part of the one-hour meeting early Thursday. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

If you’re a fan of NHL hockey, Thursday’s regressive developments in the collective bargaining negotiations could mean you’re out of luck if you were hoping for a season.

If you’re a fan of the Three Ring Circus, just keep following along with these increasingly bizarre discussions.

In a span of minutes, and after an early evening meeting with the league, the NHLPA’s Donald Fehr took to the podium at the Westin Times Square to say he believed the players’ counter-offer to the league had moved the two sides “close” to an agreement. Soon after, he received a voicemail from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, saying that the NHL had rejected the union’s latest proposal and that the league would be taking certain aspects of its latest offer off of the table.

That includes $300 million in “make-whole” money that was to be used to honor current signed contracts, a key issue for the players.

Fehr re-took the podium and relayed that rejection to the attending media, adding, “It looks like this is not going to be resolved in the immediate future.”

Shortly after Fehr spoke, an agitated Gary Bettman spoke for more than 40 minutes. “I’m disappointed beyond belief that we are where we are tonight,” Bettman said.

The commissioner also seemed to suggest that time is getting short to save any semblance of having a season with integrity. In 1994-95, a 48-game season began on Jan. 20.

Among some other highlights (lowlights?) from the commissioner:

- The NHL’s increased offer of the make-whole money, from $211 to $300 million, brought a “shockingly silent” response from the union, and subsequently the owners were “beside themselves.” Some said, according to Bettman, “This process is over. Clearly the union doesn’t want to make a deal.”

- He was upset that Fehr moments earlier categorized the two sides as being close to a deal. He accused the union boss of  “spinning us all into an emotional frenzy.” He labeled it as “unfair to our fans, and unfair to this process.”

- The optimism for a season after Tuesday’s meeting between players and four new owners to the process “almost inexplicably disappeared Wednesday afternoon” after it seemed the two sides had made some progress.

After Bettman spoke, the league released statements from those four NHL owners that joined the talks earlier in the week. Pittsburgh’s Ron Burkle, Tampa Bay’s Jeff Vinik, Toronto’s Larry Tanenbaum and Winnipeg’s Mark Chipman met with players on Tuesday and Wednesday without Bettman or Fehr in the room (Daly and the NHLPA’s Steve Fehr were in attendance).

Burkle reportedly emerged from the talks as a voice of reason, and, along with Sidney Crosby, was being praised as a potential savior to the season.

But, Burkle's reaction to the breakdown on Thursday was discouraging.

In a statement, the Pens' owner said: “We made substantial movement on our end quickly, but unfortunately that was not met with the same level of movement from the other side. The players asked us to be patient and keep working with them. It’s not what they do and they wanted us to know they were committed. We understood and appreciated their situation. We came back with an aggressive commitment to pensions which we felt was well received. We needed a response on key items that were important to us, but we were optimistic that we were down to very few issues. I believe a deal was within reach.

“We were therefore surprised when the Fehrs made a unilateral and “non-negotiable” decision – which is their right, to end the player/owner process that has moved us farther in two days than we moved at any time in the past months.

“I want to thank the players involved for their hard work as we tried to reach a deal.

“I hope that going backwards does not prevent a deal.”

No further meetings are scheduled.