SBD/December 7, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 83: CBA Talks Come To Abrupt Halt, No Future Meetings Scheduled

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After three days of NHL labor talks "aimed at reaching a new collective bargaining agreement, the league rejected the union's latest proposal and pulled several elements of its own off the negotiating table," according to Katie Strang of ESPN N.Y.  All optimism that a "resolution was on the precipice evaporated, replaced quickly by fear that salvaging the season never has looked more bleak." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that all items the league "offered to the NHLPA in the past week have been rescinded, along with any and all 'Make Whole' payments." It is "unclear when the two sides will meet again." NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said that the union was "informed not to expect any meeting before the weekend." Sources said that there is "expected to be a serious discussion soon amongst the union on possible decertification or disclaimer of interest." Fehr, in his initial news conference following Thursday's meeting, "cited all the areas in which the two sides had reached an agreement after the union's last proposal -- pension plans, transition payments, for example -- and said they had bridged the gap on dollars completely." But in a "stunning, soap-operatic twist, Fehr returned to the podium shortly afterward with a distinctly different visage." In contrast to Fehr's "somber attitude, Bettman adopted an emotional and fiery demeanor." Bettman "blasted Fehr for what he felt was an attempt to 'spin' the message to convey the two sides are closer to a deal than they are." Bettman essentially "chastised Fehr for whipping fans up into a frenzy." He said, "I find it absolutely incomprehensible he'd do that" (ESPNNY.com, 12/6). In L.A., Lisa Dillman notes there is "no clear sign of where exactly this is heading next." More game cancellations are "sure to come soon with the league careening toward yet another missed season" (L.A. TIMES, 12/7).

ISSUES STANDING IN THE WAY: The AP's Ira Podell notes the league wants to "limit personal player contracts to five years, seven for a club's own player, and has elevated the issue to the highest level of importance." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly on Thursday said, "It's the hill we will die on." The union countered with an offer of "an eight-year maximum length with the variable in salary being no greater than a 25 percent difference between the highest-paid year of the deal and the lowest." The other NHL demands are a 10-year term on the new CBA, with a "mutual opt-out option after eight years, and no compliance buyouts or caps on escrow in the transition phase to the new structure." The union presented an offer of "an eight-year deal with a reopener after six" (AP, 12/7). Fehr in an e-mail to NHLPA members Thursday night "laid out the basics" of what happened with the CBA negotiations (TORONTO SUN, 12/7). USA TODAY's Kevin Allen notes the owners' last offer "came when players were negotiating with owners without Fehr or Bettman in the room." Jets D Ron Hainsey said, "(We) were confused that they expected us to close a deal without Fehr." He said that is "why players suggested a return to mediation." Hainsey: "The NHL told players bringing Fehr into the room could be a deal-breaker" (USA TODAY, 12/7). In Winnipeg, Ed Tait notes Thursday began with the two sides "still throwing around ideas into the wee hours, but deteriorated rapidly to the point that some of the six owners that helped bring so much optimism to the process ... were on airplanes back home by mid afternoon." For as much "momentum as the early week brought the process, by late Thursday the stone was rolling back down the hill and the vitriol spewed by both sides indicated just how much work still needs to be done to get a deal." How that can "get done now is another matter for the next few days" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 12/7).

OWNERS GIVEN OPPORTUNITY TO RESPOND: In N.Y., Jeff Klein notes Bettman characterized the union "as deceitful and petulant, and four owners from the league's moderate faction who participated in talks issued statements expressing their disappointment" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/7). Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Chair Larry Tanenbaum in his statement said that he was "initially optimistic after the first day of negotiations and conveyed that sense to the NHL’s board of governors during Wednesday’s meeting." Tanenbaum: “However, when we reconvened with the players on Wednesday afternoon, it was like someone had thrown a switch. The atmosphere had completely changed. Nevertheless, the owners tried to push forward and made a number of concessions and proposals, which were not well-received.” Tanenbaum went on to say he questioned “whether the union is interested in making an agreement” and concluded: “Had I not experienced this process myself, I might not have believed it” (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/7). In Pittsburgh, Dave Molinari notes Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle had been "widely praised" for the part he played in "generating positive momentum for the negotiations earlier in the week." But Burkle in his league-issued statement "suggested Fehr's return to the talks had been a poison pill" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 12/7).

BETTMAN GETS EMOTIONAL: Bettman said, “As difficult as this all is, having an agreement that doesn’t work and takes us back to an era where the game wasn’t healthy and doesn’t have the magnificence it has now, is something we don’t want to go back to." He added, “Am I unhappy about the prospect of (losing another season)? You bet I am” (TORONTO SUN, 12/7). In L.A., Helene Elliott writes Bettman "frequently became emotional" during the news conference (L.A. TIMES, 12/7). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside writes, "Never have we seen the commissioner so visibly agitated as he was in describing the egregious acts he insisted the union had perpetrated on the owners in the previous 48 hours" (ESPN.com, 12/7).

WHAT ARE WE FIGHTING FOR? ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote the NHL labor dispute has "transformed into perhaps the most ridiculous labor impasse in the history of pro sports." LeBrun: "Are the owners and players really going to let the season get canned over the differences that remain in the two offers? ... Are we really going to drop the ax on an entire season because the owners are THAT adamant about five-year term limits for player contracts? And are the players THAT opposed to five-year contract term limits that they will let an entire season’s worth of salary go down the drain?" (ESPN.com, 12/6). The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek asks, "Is it worth losing a season over a CBA provision that affects so few -- keeping in mind players who have these long-term commitments are usually the NHL’s top earners and thus would make oodles of cash, even on short-term deals?" The "quaint notion that the NHL season would be up and running by Christmas just went up in smoke, and the thought that the union will start the decertification process went from a theoretical option to a real possibility." Duhatschek: "All because the two sides cannot bridge a three-year gap on contract limits and a two-year divide on the length of the CBA" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/7). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell wrote the two sides "who have been coming from alternate realities since the beginning somehow have managed to polarize themselves even more." If you are a hockey fan, it "would be a good time to cue Chopin’s 'Funeral March' and begin coming to grips with the notion of missing a season of NHL hockey for the second time in eight years" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 12/6). SI.com's Stu Hackel writes, "It borders on insanity that this business will suffer more damage as the clock ticks toward that last pressure point. Maybe these antagonists can salvage the season, maybe not. By then it may not matter" (SI.com, 12/7). In Minneapolis, Michael Russo wrote the NHL has "sadly turned into a laughingstock. Total gong show tonight" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 12/6).

ANOTHER ROUND OF THE BLAME GAME: QMI AGENCY's Chris Stevenson wrote under the header, "Donald Fehr Driving NHL Owners Nuts Over Lockout." Stevenson: "I haven’t always agreed with ... Fehr’s tactics, but respected his reputation. I wonder about his ability now after he came out Thursday night and basically said the two sides had a deal only to have it vehemently rejected by the NHL." If he "didn’t believe it and was spinning things, then it was a shameful performance to get the fans’ hopes up the way he did" (QMI AGENCY, 12/6). In Denver, Adrian Dater writes if Fehr was "truthful in saying how close the sides were in his press conference ... why did he want to bring in federal mediators earlier in the day?" Does that "sound normal, bringing in mediators when you’re really close?" Dater: "We’ve heard some spin on this matter ... but the old cliche remains true: this doesn’t pass the smell test" (DENVERPOST.com, 12/7). YAHOO SPORTS’ Harrison Mooney wrote, "By all accounts, Donald Fehr is a difficult man.” Perhaps he “went too far on Thursday?” However the statements from the four owners is the "next step in an ongoing strategy to discredit Fehr and paint him as the villain” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/6). SPORTING NEWS’ Jesse Spector wrote, “As much as the NHL has done to publicly vilify Fehr over the course of negotiations, including the end-around attempt of publishing a previous CBA offer on NHL.com, this is a new low” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 12/6). In Vancouver, Ed Willes writes under the header, “Failed Talks Mark New Low For NHL Leadership” (Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/7). In Pittsburgh, Dejan Kovacevic writes, "Bettman needs to go. Not soon, but right now." That is "not to let Fehr off the hook." His reputation as "a man solely interested in the advance of labor, even at the expense of the athletes he serves, was never more glaring than Thursday." But it is "just impossible to get past that the man running the sport also has done a bang-up job of ruining it." The owners "should immediately consider" NHL COO John Collins (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 12/7).
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