With a deal that would save the season tantalizingly close, the NHL's collective bargaining talks broke down in spectacular fashion on Thursday night.
A bizarre series of twists and turns played out in front of reporters and saw the sides taking pointed shots at each other. It was a shocking end to a day that began with some close to the situation believing a deal was at hand - and raised serious questions about why the league and the players can't close with seemingly so little now separating them.
Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, raised hopes after tabling a new proposal during an hour-long meeting on Thursday night and claiming the sides were "clearly very close, if not on top of one another in connection with most of the major issues."
The optimism didn't last long. A voicemail left on union special counsel Steve Fehr's cellphone during the press conference carried an important message: Not only was the NHL flatly rejecting the union's offer, it was also pulling all the concessions it made this week off the table.
By the time commissioner Gary Bettman met reporters, he was in a rage over the enthusiasm Fehr expressed.
"I find it almost incomprehensible he did that," said Bettman, who shook as he spoke.
He and deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the league would need the union to include three key elements before any deal is signed:
? A 10-year term for the CBA, with a mutual reopener after eight years (the NHLPA offered eight years, with an option to opt out after Year 6).
? No compliance buyouts.
? Contract term limits of five years, which Daly described as "the hill we will die on."
"What we got today, quite frankly and disappointingly, missed the mark on all three respects," said Daly. "So for the union to suggest somehow we are close, is cherry picking and it's unfortunate."
The dramatic session capped a three-day stretch unlike any other during these negotiations. With Bettman and Fehr relegated to the sidelines, owners and players held sessions Tuesday and Wednesday that saw both take steps toward the other.
Not only did the NHL drop proposed changes to unrestricted free agency, entry-level contracts and arbitration, it also made a significant financial jump. It offered to increase the amount of deferred transition money paid to the players to $300 million - which sat directly between what it had previously tabled ($211 million) and what the NHLPA had asked for ($393 million).
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