Negotiations between NHL, NHLPA fall apart

Jonathan Willis
December 06 2012 06:43PM

Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman held dueling press conferences on Thursday night, and the news was not good. After initially suggesting both sides were close, Don Fehr announced that the NHL had rejected the players’ associations’ latest offer. Gary Bettman followed Fehr up, and announced that the NHL was removing all of the concessions placed on the table in the last meeting.

It was a bizarre evening, and represented an incredibly strange conclusion to a series of talks between owners and players that had initially seemed to create some traction between the two sides.

Donald Fehr's press conference opened on a hopeful note. He detailed an NHLPA proposal that had been made to the league, and which contained the following details:

  • Agreement on the dollars presented in the NHL's last "Make Whole" offer
  • An eight-year CBA term with a mutual out-clause after six years, rather than the ten-year term presented by the league with a mutual out-clause after eight years.
  • Eight-year term limit on contracts
  • No greater year-to-year variance than 25% at any point of the deals

Fehr concluded his statement by emphasizing how close both sides were, and that an agreement could be reached very quickly. 

But no sooner had Fehr left the podium than word came that he was about to return. The NHLPA - in the person of Steve Fehr - had received a voice mail from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, with news that the league had rejected the NHLPA's proposal and that there was no purpose to continuing the meetings; he added that unspecified measures had been taken off the table. Then news came that Bettman and Daly would be holding their own press conference.

Bettman's press conference showed the commissioner at his most emotional, angrily refuting NHLPA statements. Bettman explained that the league's offer last night had not been intended as a negotiable proposal, and that all the NHL wanted was a yes or a no answer. Instead, the NHLPA chose to counter.

Bettman spoke at length, but conveyed a basic message: the NHL had made all the concessions they were going to make, and owners were incredibly angry at their latest proposal being treated the way it was. He added that the league was withdrawing its latest offer. He further railed against the NHLPA's assertion that the two sides were close. He and Daly made comments about "a line in the sand" and "hill to die on."

The NHL followed up Bettman's press conference by releasing statements from ownership.

The bottom line: negotiations have fallen apart, and the NHL is now moving away from its last offer.

It's unclear exactly what happens next, but a move to the courts would seem to be the most likely outcome.

One other thing to emerge from Bettman's press conference: he says he does not have a drop-dead date on the season. But he also said he can't imagine playing less than the 48 games they played in 1994-95.

Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.