Leave it to the media-savvy Donald Fehr to best sum up Thursday’s NHL collective bargaining talks.
“Today was not a good day,” the Players’ Association executive director told reporters in Toronto. “It should have been, but it wasn’t.”
It could have been the day that owners and the NHLPA began to find common ground and, at the very least, began to move toward real hockey and the end of the lockout. Instead, it was a day of poisonous rhetoric and one that could stunt whatever momentum appeared to be created by the owner’s Tuesday proposal.
The NHLPA served up three offers “to say we’d like to make a deal with you. We think there’s three alternatives and we hope we can live with any one of them if it provides the right kind of negotiating framework, so pick one,” Fehr said.
All three were rejected out of hand within a few minutes.
“It’s clear that we’re not speaking the same language in terms of what they came back to us with,” commissioner Gary Bettman said.
Said Fehr: “After the proposal was made, they did what they’ve done before: they take a very few minutes, they don’t think about it very much, they don’t analyze it, they don’t talk to the other owners, they don’t do anything. They take less than 10 minutes, maybe it was 15, and we have a meeting. And we are told two things: All three proposals are rejected in their entirety, and secondly, the proposal that we recently got … is their best offer. And they might be willing to tweak it around the edges. I said a tweak is a small and insubstantial thing and they agreed. But that’s it. And that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
The third proposal, which players took to Twitter to espouse the virtues of, could be considered the most palatable. But there’s no real agreement from the two sides on what it means.
Fehr announced it as a 50/50 split, given that all signed contracts were honored in full. He admitted the possibility was “floated” Thursday but that the NHLPA had not run the full numbers on it.
“Since on 50/50 immediately the players’ share would fall about 13 percent on an individual contract, we segregate 13 percent, and the players get paid the 13 percent,” Fehr explained. “The other 87 percent, plus all the new contracts go into a pool with HRR and that’s 50/50 and that starts right now.
“It’s a very simple proposition. We’ll get you to 50/50 but you’ve got to agree to honor the contracts that you just signed. We think it makes a lot of sense. We think it really is fair. It couldn’t be more balanced in that regard. What it doesn’t do is give the owners an agreement right now to have the players give them back billions of dollars.”
Several players, including Paul Bissonnette and Jamal Mayers, used Twitter to explain the third proposal.
“Gary mischaracterizes our offer! 50/50 AND honor existing contracts,” Mayers wrote. “How is that not the same language? NHL offer Tues was PR move.”
The NHL used a statement from deputy commissioner Bill Daly to smack down the third offer by the players:
“The so called 50-50 deal, plus honoring current contracts proposed by the NHL Players’ Association earlier today is being misrepresented. It is not a 50-50 deal. It is, most likely a 56- to 57-percent deal in Year One and never gets to 50 percent during the proposed five-year term of the agreement. The proposal contemplates paying the Players approximately $650 million outside of the Players’ Share. In effect, the Union is proposing to change the accounting rules to be able to say ‘50-50,’ when in reality it is not. The Union told us that they had not yet ‘run the numbers.’ We did.”
And here we are, at Oct. 19 with no deal done, 135 games canceled and the very real threat of more by next week. The dream of an 82-game season starting Nov. 2 would require a new CBA by Oct. 25, something that seems out of reach.
“The longer this goes and particularly if we’re not in a position to have an 82-game regular season, the damage may in fact make it even more difficult as time goes on to make a deal,” Bettman said. “I am, to say the least, thoroughly disappointed, but I’m giving you the facts.”
Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres told Josh Rimer of Sirius-XM that he believed owners and players were closer to making a deal than they were before. But that kind of optimism appears to be limited, especially given Bettman and Fehr’s comments Thursday.
Bettman called the players’ offers “a step backward” and deemed the owners’ offer from Tuesday the best that they can give. Beyond that, no one knows what’s next.
“We have each other’s numbers and if there’s something to talk about, we’re always ready, willing and able to be anywhere at any time,” Bettman said. “The next step is, Hopefully we’ll hear back, but I don’t know what the next step is. I’m obviously very discouraged.”