The NHL labour talks have hit another roadblock.
After two optimistic days that suggested a deal could be imminent, negotiations between the league and the NHL Players' Association broke off dramatically Thursday.
The NHLPA tabled a new offer to the NHL Thursday afternoon which the league rejected. Addressing the media for a second time, NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said the NHL left a voicemail saying the offer was not acceptable.
"This looks like it's not going to be resolved in the immediate future," Fehr said in response to the NHL's rejection. Fehr went on to say that he doesn't know when the two sides will meet again.
"We are clearly very close, if not on top of one another, in connection with most of the major issues," Fehr said. "I don't know when discussions will resume."
Addressing the media following Fehr, commissioner Gary Bettman said the sense of optimism "almost inexplicably" disappeared Wednesday afternoon after such a good day Tuesday.
Bettman said the owners pushed hard on a new deal Wednesday night, but said the union's response was "shockingly silent" and confirmed the elements the league added to the table this week are now off the table.
"We have moved dramatically, we are proposing a long-term system that will pay the players billions and billions of dollars over its term, but we have to have a system that works right," Bettman said. "It's all part of the package. I am disappointed beyond belief that we are where we are tonight. We're going to have to take a deep breath and try and regroup."
Bill Daly also addressed the media following Bettman and said five-year player contract limits were hugely important to the NHL, as is a 10-year CBA term.
He also said term limits on player contracts is so important to league, it's "the hill we'll die on."
Daly, along with NHL general counsel Bob Batterman had been meeting with Fehr and his brother Steve along with a group of players before the meetings broke off.
The NHLPA tabled a new proposal Thursday evening which they thought addressed the NHL's concerns. Fehr told the media following the meeting that the players responded comprehensively.
"The players have gone a very, very long way," said Fehr. "The players have done far and away the lion's share."
In their newest proposal, the players were asking for an eight-year term on an agrement with an opt-out after Year Six and contracts limited to eight years, with the ability to add years mid-term provided maximum length going forward can never exceed eight seasons.
Fehr said the two sides had agreed on the significant money issues, that includes accepting the NHL's Make Whole offer.
New York Rangers forward Brad Richards spoke following Thursday's news conferences, stressing the importance of getting back to the table soon.
"It becomes more obvious that it is ultimatum-style negotiating," Richards said. "(The owners) weren't even in town to negotiate (Thursday). Owners and player meetings went well but we needed professionals to close the deal and thought that's what we were attempting to begin to do. To hear we said if we get a pension deal then we agree to everything they want is a bit confusing, but hopefully both sides step back and realize how important it is to get back to the table ASAP."
While there was some optimism Wednesday, the mood in New York was mixed early on Thursday. "All I can tell you is there's a really bizarre dynamic right now and so many mixed signals coming from both sides," tweeted TSN Insider Bob McKenzie Thursday morning.
"On one hand, don't think they're far from agreement on principle issues. But on flip side, clearly a sense this thing is hanging by a thread," TSN's Pierre LeBrun said on Twitter.
The group dynamic was smaller as there were no NHL owners in the negotiating session. Both Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tannenbaum and True North Sports & Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman left New York before Thursday's negotiations began.
Following Thursday night's dvelopments, Tanenbaum released a statement detailing how he thought the negotiations hit a road block on Wednesday after Tuesday's progress.
"I understand how important it is to have a strong league and 30 healthy teams," Tanenbaum said. "I must admit that I was shocked at how things have played out over the last 48 hours. The sessions on Tuesday felt cooperative with an air of goodwill. I was optimistic and conveyed my optimism to the Board of Governors at our Wednesday meeting. However, when we reconvened with the players on Wednesday afternoon, it was like someone had thrown a switch."
Chipman also weighed in with his thoughts.
"Regrettably, we have been unable to close the divide on some critical issues that we feel are essential to the immediate and long-term health of our game," Chipman said. "While I sense there are some members of the players association that understand our perspective on these issues, clearly there are many that don't."
After meeting for nearly 10 hours on Tuesday, the two sides went at it for even longer on Wednesday.
The NHL Players' Association submitted another proposal for the NHL to evaluate Wednesday while the league countered on key issues later on. Both sides spent hours in and out of the bargaining room going over issues with talks ending shortly before 1am et.
Daly described Wednesday's talks as, "good, candid dialogue" but mentioned that "critical issues" remain unresolved and that he expected those issues to be addressed during Thursday's negotiations.
The league's offer Wednesday night offered a raise in money devoted to the Make Whole provision. The number in the latest offer jumped to $300 million, up from $211 million in the league's previous offer. The players had previously asked for $389 million, making the owners' latest offer an exact middle ground between the previous offer and the players' demands. However, of that proposed $300 million only $250 million would go towards a 'make-whole' provision with the remaining $50 million going towards pension funding that would not come out of the players' share.
The proposal submitted was for a 10-year term for the next CBA with an opt-out clause after eight years. The rules governing unrestricted free agency and salary arbitration would remain unchanged from last season. The league did not budge on its request for a five-year term limit on player contracts and held firm to a maximum year-to-year salary variance of five per cent.
The league's offer did, however, offer an exception on contract lengths for the re-signing of free agents. Teams would be allowed to re-sign their own free agents to contracts up to seven years in duration.
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