The morning after NHL labour talks fell to pieces, one of the NHLPA's most active negotiators was still trying to put together what exactly went wrong.
"Just trying to play out the process a little bit in my head of what happened, where we might have gotten off track," said Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey.
Those thoughts led him directly to Wednesday night, when the two sides were deep in the most delicate of negotiations. The NHL laid out its main issues and deal breakers and the NHLPA did the same. But as the players were outlining details of a proposal, Hainsey began to sense frustration from the owners and became concerned that they were having trouble clearly communicating the details of their offer.
"There was clearly a communication issue with what transpired across the table," added Hainsey. "They hadn't understood it properly I guess, or it just hadn't been communicated right and there was an issue there and so that was when I thought it was troublesome. We needed to think about getting the lead guys back in there; both sides not just our side because being clear and getting this done we felt was there to do."
Hainsey and the players indicated that the small group dynamic was over, that Don Fehr was coming back in. He says the owners told them that could be a deal breaker. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly clarified the league's position via e-mail to TSN, saying "totally within their rights to do, but response of our owners was "if that's the case, don't expect us to stay involved."
In Hainsey's mind, that was a bold position for the league to take at that stage of the negotiations.
"We are not capable of closing billion dollar deals, we can get them close I think, we're tryin to do that, but as far as closing them out, I don't see any other way we could do it without our staff in there," said Hainsey. "That's why they're there."
An NHLPA source issued a statement on the breakdown of the meetings and the league's concern over Don Fehr returning on Thursday.
"The players agreed to the owners' request for a players/owners meeting. They didn't agree to negotiate a CBA with seasoned negotiators on the owners' side without their legal team in the room. Players understand that while they are smart, this is not their area of expertise which is why they have hired seasoned negotiators to help represent them."
As to the suggestion that communication had become a huge issue, Daly also told TSN, "I wouldn't disagree with Ron that it is difficult to have real "negotiations" with so many people in the room. It really needs to be done in a much tighter group setting. Having said that, I don't think there was any real miscommunication on our position that we needed them to say "yes" on what we felt were three fairly minor asks, given what we were dropping from our demands. Our owners really tried to put all the cards on the table, and they weren't pleased with how the union responded."
So what happens now? The players involved in talks have gone their separate ways, though Hainsey indicated he would spend most of the five-hour drive home Friday on his phone. He expected a combination of planning, and trying to ease the minds of other members who are looking for answers. It's part of the job when you represent 700 of your peers.
When asked if there is the risk in being as front and centre as he is, Hainsey said he knew what we was getting into.
"There's risk in everything, it's not like I went into this with blinders on. I'm here trying to do as well as I can for our guys, and for the right reasons and I think the guys who've been here in and out have seen that. I try to make it clear at the end of the day this is all about a group of players as a whole."
Hainsey is known to be very outspoken, perhaps even brash at times. Some believed part of the reason the owners wanted Mark Chipman, essentially Hainsey's boss, in the small group was to curtail Hainsey's aggressiveness. He says it didn't phase him one bit, and insists things have been very cordial, despite reports to the contrary. More than anything, he seems to truly believe, despite all the venom spewing from both sides right now, finding a deal is still very do-able.
"When there's 18 players in the room and six owners, there's a lot of people who want to share their view, and there's a lot of stuff to take in. It's not just direct negotiations, and I feel that's where we got off-track a little, and I think we can fix that quickly, I really do."