The optimism was short lived. According to the NHL, though, it was actually non-existent. And in a matter of minutes, the thought that hockey would convene soon evaporated into a mist of anger, frustration and uncertainty.
The NHL succinctly rejected the NHLPAs latest proposal minutes after the players association announced it in a press conference and they did it via voicemail, no less. And judging from the very angry reaction from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, things have definitely taken an ugly turn in negotiations.
Im disappointed beyond belief that we are where we are tonight, Bettman said in a press conference. The characterization that I just heard that we were close reminds me the last time the union said we were close, and we were a billion dollars apart. Spinning us into an emotional frenzy over maybe were close and were going to be playing hockey tomorrow is terribly unfair to our fans and this process.
The characterization Bettman spoke of came about an hour before, when NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr held a press conference on his groups latest proposal. Fehr said the NHLPA and the league had a complete agreement on dollars. We expect this to put us on a quick end to this dispute. The players proposal, according to Fehr, was an eight-year CBA and player contracts maxed out at eight years.
But Bettman said it wasnt about the players coming up with a new proposal. He said it was about them saying yes or no to key elements that the owners wanted, and a yes leading to more talks. Those included a long CBA the league wants 10 years and the five-year term limit on player contracts, which deputy commissioner Bill Daly said is the hill we will die on.
Following the PAs rejected proposal, Fehr said this looks like it's not going to be resolved in the immediate future. We are clearly very close, if not on top of one another in connection with most of the major issues.
Again, its looking like two sides speaking different languages. Fehr saying theyre close, Bettman saying theyre nowhere near being so. And after Thursdays events, Bettman said elements the league added, including the make whole provision, are now off the table.
Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers, who was present for this weeks talks in New York City, said its unfathomable that we moved as much as we did in an attempt to make the deal. And as close as we are, to find ourselves that far away or having the owners effectively walk away and taking everything off the table is unfortunate.
It was an ugly end to a week that started off positive in terms of talks. The owners and players, minus Bettman and Fehr, seemed to develop good banter and even progress toward a new CBA. But things apparently changed on Wednesday. And by Thursday players were meeting with NHL brass, and the four remaining owners who had talked through Wednesday were leaving town.
And in another twist, four of the owners who were involved in this weeks talks issued statements regarding them. Owners to this point had been largely silent, as they faced big fines for talking.
Pittsburgh co-owner Ron Burkle said it seemed progress was being made in ownerplayer talks, and therefore we were surprised when Fehr made a unilateral and "non-negotiable" decision -- which is their right -- to end the playerowner process that has moved us farther in two days than we have 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.
The optimism is gone for now. No more talks are currently planned. Bettman told NYC media that no drop-dead date to cancel the season has been set, but he also said he couldnt see the league playing anything less than a 48-game schedule.
There have been episodes in these negotiations that have been anything from interesting to bizarre. The latest events are just sad.