It seems miscommunication or a misunderstanding between the NHL and the NHLPA
has caused talks to break down.
TORONTO -- Well, that didn't go according to plan.
As I watched NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr's first press
conference (which should never have taken place -- more on that
below), the clouds started to part, the birds started to sing, and I
started to get that funny hockey feeling inside me again.
"Finally," I thought, "we're getting somewhere."
And then, no more than 30 minutes after Fehr left the podium, he
"There has been a development," Fehr said. "It's not a positive one."
Just like that, the clouds darkened, the birds died and I puked a
little in my mouth.
What the hell just happened?
All afternoon on Wednesday, I kept hearing CBA negotiations were
starting to sink. Some people in the room even told me they "hit a
wall" on certain areas. But at least they kept talking. Negotiations
were ongoing, regardless of how heated they were getting. The longer
they spoke, despite all the BS, the most promising it seemed. NHLPA
Special Counsel Steve Fehr even handed out pizza slices to the media.
After talks ended just before 1am ET on Thursday, something seemed
odd. And no, it wasn't because NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and
Steve Fehr weren't holding hands at a post-meeting presser.
Thursday morning rolled around and it was eerily silent. The two sides
were meeting on their own. As time passed, players started to leave.
Then some of the owners took off. Then, just after 5pm ET, the Players
pitched their latest offer... A little over an hour later, Don Fehr
stepped to the podium.
The rest is history.
I was dumbfounded by the odd turn of events. First of all, when Don
Fehr started spewing out terms of the NHLPA's offer, that was it for
me. As positive as it sounded, as soon as one side reveals its cards,
then whole thing comes crumbling down. And that's what happened. The
noisier it gets, the less likely it is a deal is near.
Second of all, in my 10 years covering the NHL, I have never seen NHL
Commissioner Gary Bettman and Daly so upset and animated. Their
reactions were genuine. They were also troubling. If these guys are
this pissed off, how on earth can there be a deal on the horizon?
As of now, there isn't.
And this is where the confusion kicks in.
The NHL insists their offer was a "package deal."
"This whole week has been about a package deal, a package process,"
Daly told reporters yesterday.
After speaking to some folks over on the NHLPA side, they seemed to
believe parts of the NHL's offer were "flexible." As a result, their
counter was based on that belief and so was Don Fehr's initial press
One NHL executive reiterated to me this morning that their entire
proposal was pieced together specifically as a package.
"The owners wanted to stop with the 'baby moves' on both sides in
favor of taking big steps to get to a deal," the executive said.
If this is truly the case, at what point did the communication
breakdown occur? Was it when Ryan Miller blew a gasket? Was it when
Jeremy Jacobs threatened to pull the League's deal off the table? Was
it when Don Fehr wanted to push the envelope and try to get more from
the owners? Was it when the players wanted to end the players-owners
only meetings? Was it when key points of the deal kept changes?
This week has been one giant mess. How, at this stage of negotiations,
is there a lack of communication? Either somebody isn't telling the
whole truth, or this process has been flawed from the start. Or both.
Bettman and Daly said the NHL has three unbreakable terms: a 10-year
CBA with an opt-out clause after eight, which directly correlates to
their $300 million make-whole provision offer; a five-year cap on
player contracts, with a five per cent variance (seven-year cap for
restricted and unrestricted free agents re-signing with the same
team); and no limits on items such as escrow.
The NHLPA proposed an eight-six CBA with an opt-out clause after six,
presumably at the same $300 million make-whole provision; an
eight-year max on player contracts with a 25 per cent variance; and
restrictions on escrow, buyouts, etc.
The NHL also offered to keep salary arbitration rights, free agent
status and entry-level contracts status quo (which isn't exactly a
concession), but have since pulled these items and their overall offer
off of the table.
There's clearly distrust. Yesterday, Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron
Hainsey said the owners told players Wednesday night that bringing Don
Fehr back into the room "could be a deal-breaker."
When asked about that this morning, Daly denied it.
"I know for a fact that Don's name was never mentioned," he told me
"Our owners felt strongly about the 'owners-players meeting dynamic'.
They felt both sides could continue to have access to the people they
needed to make a deal, but wanted the meeting room to remain
"Players unilaterally decided to end that dynamic. That was their
right to do. Similarly it was within the rights of our owners to
disengage from the process as a result."
And disengage they have. Both sides have.
The NHLPA will hold a conference call with its membership today. Where
these two sides go from here remains unclear. Taking a couple of days
to regroup and breathe might be a wise choice at this stage of the
The NHL will cancel its next round of games in the near future. It's
possible that will occur later today, but it seems more likely to
happen early next week. There's talk of eliminating a greater amount
of games through mid-January, but we won't know for certain until the
NHL decides what approach it would like to take.