NHL rejects latest players' proposal

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NHL rejects latest players' proposal

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.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. How will Blackhawks respond to worst loss of season?

The Blackhawks suffered their worst loss of the season on Saturday in a 7-0 rout at the hands of the Panthers. It was the first time they've lost by at least seven goals since 2011 when Edmonton beat them 9-2 and the first time they lost 7-0 since 2001 against San Jose; the Blackhawks lost to Washington 6-0 earlier this year. But by no means was Saturday their worst effort of the season. A questionable interference penalty by Marcus Kruger led to a two-man advantage, which Florida cashed in on with a goal and another shortly after, and it opened up the floodgates. Expect a big bounce-back against a hungry Lightning team.

2. Lightning fighting for playoff lives.

Every game is a must-win for the Lightning with eight games remaining on their schedule. They're three points out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand on the Bruins, who currently occupy that spot, but still have to jump the Islanders. The Lightning didn't do themselves any favors by losing three straight in regulation last week, but they've won two in a row and tonight will be the first of a four-game homestand for them.

3. Keep the puck off Nikita Kucherov's stick.

There isn't a hotter player in the NHL right now than Kucherov, who has seven goals and two assists in his last four games. He's had two hat tricks in the past month, and he ranks sixth in the league with 78 points and second in goals with 38. You know how lethal Artemi Panarin's slapshot is from the left faceoff circle? That's Kucherov, but on the right side.

4. Staying disciplined.

The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team in the league, but they acted out of character Saturday by racking up 30 penalty minutes. They were also slapped with a pair of unsportsmanlike penalties, which isn't something you normally see from Joel Quenneville's teams. Ryan Hartman, who along with Marcus Kruger was penalized for "yapping" at the officials, accepted responsibility for it after the game, and insisted it "won't happen again."

5. Special teams to play key factor?

On the flip side, the Lightning are the second-most penalized team, averaging just over 11 penalty minutes per game. Power plays will be key for the Blackhawks in an effort to keep Tampa Bay's collection of talented young goal scorers off the ice. The Lightning also boast a top-five power play unit with a 22 percent success rate. Both teams would be better served staying out of the box and making this a 5-on-5 battle.

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Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

The Blackhawks have talked the past several games now about how they need to play better, how they need to get back to their 60-minute game. But even when you tell yourself you have to improve the message doesn't always translate into immediate action. That's especially true if, despite so-so play, you're still managing victories or still eking out a point.

Sometimes, you need a jolt to realize you have to get better. Well, that thud the Blackhawks made in South Florida ought to get their attention. 

The Blackhawks' 7-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, that "ugly, ugly game," as coach Joel Quenneville, is the latest in what's been a mediocre stretch for the team. They've been leaning on their goaltending again (please see Minnesota, Montreal, Ottawa and Dallas games). Or they've been leaning on their ability to wake up in the third period after sleepwalking through the first two. Sixty-minute games and four-line rotations, such a big part of the Blackhawks' success through February and early March, have been absent.

Call it the Blackhawks' mid-March malaise.

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It hasn't been more painful because the Blackhawks have still found ways to get points. Or at least they did until Saturday night, when two "yapping" penalties – Quenneville's (accurate) description of Ryan Hartman and Marcus Kruger's unsportsmanlike calls – started the Blackhawks' demise against the Panthers. Players told the traveling media following the game that this was a wake-up call. It ought to be.

Granted, the Blackhawks' late-season issues aren't as bad as some of their fellow Western Conference teams. The Minnesota Wild are 3-10-1 in March. The San Jose Sharks have lost six in a row. This also isn't the first time the Blackhawks have gone through this late-season mediocrity.

Entering the 2015 postseason they struggled to score goals and lost four in a row (five goals in those four games). It turned out alright. Still, best to avoid bad habits.

Perhaps the Blackhawks are in a bit of a swoon because, really, there's not much for which to play in these final few games. They don't care if they win the Presidents' Trophy (and they probably won't). They're currently in first place by seven points following the Wild's 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday. Whether the Blackhawks finish first or second, they'll start this postseason at home. 

So is this panic-inducing? No. Is it a concern? Certainly. The Blackhawks can't start thinking they'll automatically flip the switch as soon as the postseason begins.

The Blackhawks want to get their four-line rotation going again. Artem Anisimov returning in the next week or two will certainly help that. They want to get their overall game going again. The Blackhawks have been telling themselves what needs to be done for a few games now. Maybe they needed a wake-up call. On Saturday, they got it.