NHL labor negotiations broke down in spectacular fashion Thursday as the league rejected the latest proposal by the players and took several provisions it proposed during the three days of talks this week off the table.
The evening began with NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr stating that the two sides had reached a “complete agreement on dollars” including the make whole provision. Some disagreements remained on contracting issues but Fehr was quite optimistic and insistent that the two sides were close to striking a deal.
Not long after that initial press conference concluded, Fehr returned to the podium. His brother and special counsel to the NHLPA Steve Fehr received a voicemail from NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly stating that the league rejected the union’s proposal.
“It looks like this is not going to be resolved in the immediate future,” Fehr told reporters in New York when he met them a second time. (video here)
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman vehemently denied that the two sides were nearing an agreement and criticized Fehr for suggesting as much and creating false hope. (video here)
“I’m not sure that spinning us all into an emotional frenzy,” Bettman said, “Over maybe we’re close and we’re going to be playing hockey tomorrow, is terribly unfair to our fans and it’s unfair to this process.”
So where do things stand now? This week owners offered to increase its make whole payment to $300 million as well as maintain the unrestricted free agency eligibility age and salary arbitration requirements the same as they were in the previous collective bargaining agreement. In return, the owners wanted the players to agree on three other issues: a 10-year CBA, a five-year term limit on individual player contracts and no transition issues — no escrow limits and no compliance buyouts. The offer was a “total package” as Bettman described it, essentially take it or leave it.
To those three issues the players countered with proposals of an eight-year CBA that included an option in the sixth year, individual contract limits of eight years and a variance rule that Fehr said addressed the league’s concern of back-diving contracts. Fehr added that the two sides had not yet discussed transition issues.
“What we got today, quite frankly and disappointingly, missed the mark in all three respects,” Daly said. “So for the union to suggest that somehow we’re close is cherry picking and it’s unfortunate.”
With the rejection of the NHLPA’s offer, the league took the make whole proposal, not just the dollar amount but the concept itself, off the table along with other components according to Bettman. Daly went so far as to call the individual contract limits as “the hill we will die on” thus removing any doubt that contracting issues — once thought to be the simple part of these negotiations — are now a major hurdle.
Where things go from here, no one really knows. Bettman declined to name a “drop-dead” date for the season but acknowledged that he didn’t envision playing less than 48 games.
• The four moderate owners who took part in negotiations this week — Pittsburgh’s Ron Burkle, Tampa Bay’s Jeff Vinik, Winnipeg’s Mark Chipman and Toronto’s Larry Tanenbaum — released statements expressing their disappointment in talks breaking off. Check them out and some analysis of the message at Puck Daddy.
• ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun offers a take many of us can probably relate to: You have got to be kidding me.
• Do the events of these negotiations look a lot like the ones from 2004-05? Erik Duhatschek of The Globe and Mail thinks so.