NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Wednesday night suggested to NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr that the two sides "take a two-week moratorium from negotiations," according to Katie Strang of ESPN N.Y. A source said that Fehr informed Bettman he would "like to speak with his membership first." The union likely will "give Bettman a response Friday, although it is believed it would prefer meeting rather than not." Bettman's suggestion "follows a disheartening week of limited communication between the sides." NHL Deputy Commissioner Billy Daly in an e-mail said, "I find it incredible that the Union is suggesting that we are somehow 'close' to a deal." NHLPA Special Counsel Steve Fehr responded, "We believe it is more likely that we will make progress if we meet than if we don't." Daly said, "I'm more discouraged now than I have been at any point in the process" (ESPNNY.com, 11/15). USA TODAY's Kevin Allen notes Bettman made the suggestion because "neither side seems to know where to go next in the stalemated negotiations." Daly: "Maybe a break might give both sides a chance to asses where we are" (USA TODAY, 11/16). Daly added, "I think the process is stalled right now. We are done with making proposals and we don't have any new ideas. I guess we will wait to see if the PA has anything to offer that would get us interested in returning to the table. It's unfortunate" (LATIMES.com, 11/15).
WHAT NEXT? In N.Y., Jeff Klein noted there are "no talks scheduled and more game cancellations imminent." The "biggest gap" is in player contract rights, where Bettman "has not budged from his original proposals, which would limit contract lengths and increase the playing time requirements for achieving free agency and salary arbitration." Players on Thursday "missed the third biweekly paycheck they would have received" (NYTIMES.com, 11/15). The CP's Chris Johnston wrote, "Pessimism has grown while losses have started to mount" (CP, 11/15). In N.Y., Pat Leonard notes the NHL is "days away from canceling at least part of its December schedule" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/16). SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Chris Botta on Wednesday night tweeted, "Source: if there isn't a deal in place in next 7days, NHL will cancel games thru Dec. 15. Next cancellation could be the season." (TWITTER.com, 11/14). CSNPHILLY.com's Tim Panaccio wrote a two-week break in talks "is truly bizarre, but it also explains why there haven't been negotiating sessions this week" (CSNPHILLY.com, 11/15). The GLOBE & MAIL's James Mirtle writes, "Sure it's dark. And yes they're angry at one another and not talking. But to say there hasn't been any progress in the last eight weeks (or even two weeks) is just flat out wrong" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/16).
WINNERS & LOSERS: The N.Y. DAILY NEWS' Leonard writes Daly has been "honest throughout these negotiations." It is "difficult not to take him at his word, even if the same cannot be said about Bettman and his 30 silenced enforcers." The NHL has "mishandled several pivotal junctures of these negotiations." The players, "in a sense, are winning" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/16). CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty writes the more the NHL "tries to show they're not reaching a level of desperation, the more they awkwardly reveal just how desperate they're actually becoming." The suggestion for a two-week moratorium is a move that "reeked of weakness and 'last resort mode' in their Bob Batterman-approved lockout playbook." The NHL has "proven amazingly inept during this whole lockout process." The league needs to allow Bruins Owner and NHL BOG Chair Jeremy Jacobs to "step up and take some level of credit for brokering a deal with the players that ended the lockout rather than his current role as JJ the lockout bus driver" (CSNNE.com, 11/16). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote it is "too late to declare anybody a winner no matter how this plays out." Both sides "will be declared losers." Owners "don't want to move an inch at this point." They are "furious that their $211 million 'make whole' offer was rebuffed so easily." Donald Fehr is getting the league "to move on key issues such as revenue sharing and is keeping his players on board through it all." LeBrun: "Unless I'm completely misreading the tea leaves, I can't think of very many NHL players who are willing to sacrifice an entire season of hockey just so they can make a point to commissioner Gary Bettman. ... but if I'm an NHL player, I demand that Fehr cut his losses over the next 2-3 weeks and try to make the best deal possible from what's left on the table." One NHL owner said that if next weekend "comes and goes without a tentative deal, then it might be too late to save the season" (ESPN.com, 11/15). CNBC’s Seema Mody said the lockout is “causing problems” for NHL sponsors, Molson Coors, and financial firm Morningstar “calls the lockout a ‘short term headwind’ for Molson’s Q4 earnings but expects its long-term sales will be restored once players return on ice” (“Fast Money,” CNBC, 11/15).
TIME TO ALTER THE APPROACH? YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski wrote it is "clear the Fehr's tactics -- refusing to negotiate off the NHL's framework, for example -- have pushed the NHL to the point where they need to burn a timeout." There is "real concern" that Fehr's "stalling tactics, while effective, may push this thing past the brink" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/15). In Toronto, Damien Cox notes Fehr "can't control what is said by former NHL players." The dynamic this week "changed to a degree, with former players Mark Recchi and Chris Therien suggesting players may want to at the very least question the direction in which Fehr is taking the union and the tactics being used." Therien wrote on Twitter, "I'm not saying Don Fehr doesn't have a plan B but if I'm a player again now I'm calling on that 'always available' line to find out." Cox writes it is a "sensitive area for the union." The issue now is "whether the players are making the decisions or whether they are simply following Fehr's lead" (TORONTO STAR, 11/16). Retired NHLer and former NHLPA ombudsman Eric Lindros said, "There's nothing the players are getting out of this (prospective) agreement. They're giving. It's just how much are they going to give. I'm a bit frustrated with it" (WINNIPEG SUN, 11/16). CSNBayArea.com’s Kevin Kurz said, “The owners are insisting that the maximum contract is five years and there isn't too much of a discrepancy in the money between the first and final year of the deal so right now it looks like the NHL is holding firm on that. I can tell you a lot of players think that the NHL just has this timeline in their own mind and they haven't put their best offer on the table yet.” San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy: “It's almost now becoming personal between Donald Fehr and some of these guys in the ownership group. I think there is a feeling among the owners that, ‘We're not going to let Donald Fehr do to us what he did to the baseball owners’” (“Chronicle Live,” Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 11/15).
NOT YET PENNY-PINCHING: USA TODAY's Allen in a separate piece noted the players have "now technically already lost 19.4% of their 2012-13 pay." But that figure "isn't permanently settled." What players would "receive in a shortened season still would have to be negotiated" (USA TODAY, 11/16). In Pittsburgh, Dave Molinari writes most players "presumably didn't feel any immediate sting" when the lockout "prevented them from receiving their third check" of the '12-13 season Thursday. Penguins LW Pascal Dupuis said, "At this point of this lockout, I hope nobody's hurting for money. We got an escrow check back from last year, and we're making enough money to, hopefully, not be in financial trouble right now" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 11/16).