Those who know the personalities of Don Fehr and Gary Bettman feared it would come to this.
The NHL’s attempt to end a costly lockout has been reduced to a petty war of accusations getting in the way of real progress.
The NHL and its players concluded four straight days of contentious negotiations Friday night about $380 million apart in their proposals.
“We looked at some of the numbers on the various proposals and we thought we were much closer together on the structure of a deal than the suggestions were,” NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr told reporters Friday night in New York.
“They came back to us and said, ‘No, we’re very, very far apart on the structure of a deal.’”
After three days of silence on the progress of negotiations, Fehr sent a memo to players Thursday night that was obtained by Pro Hockey Talk. In that memo, Fehr said there is a “significant gap” and that there is still “a lot of work to be done and bridges to be crossed before an agreement can be made.”
Apparently, executives within the NHL took issue with that memo, anonymously telling the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that Fehr was misrepresenting the NHL’s various proposals.
A league source said the NHL has agreed to honor players’ current contracts with interest-bearing deferred payments over the first three years of the new CBA totaling $211 million.
The union has made it clear it wants all current contracts to be paid in full and that it will not accept deferred payments.
“If the notion is that they are honoring all of the contracts and everybody’s going to get paid everything they were supposed to be paid according to the letter of the contracts, it’s of course not true and never has been,” Fehr said. “I don’t quite know where that notion came from.”
The NHL’s “make whole” proposal comes on the condition that the players accept an immediate 50-50 split in hockey-related revenue. The players’ proposal would have the two sides evenly dividing revenue in the third year of the deal, likely with the players’ share dropping to 54 percent in Year 1, 52 percent in Year 2 and 50 percent in Year 3.
The owners are not budging from their immediate 50-50 split and according to Fehr are insisting on contracts that limit player’s arbitration rights and lengthens the time in which they can become unrestricted free agents.
But what about the issue of Fehr misrepresenting the players?
That seems like a stretch when as many as 13 players sat in on talks on Wednesday and four others, including former Capital and current Ranger Jeff Halpern, were in New York for Friday’s discussions. Four NHL owners, including the Capitals’ Ted Leonsis, are on the NHL’s negotiatiing committee.
“Owners can’t come to meetings when they want to hear stuff directly but every single player can at the union’s expense,” Fehr said. “He can come and hear for himself, make the judgments, and all the rest of it.”
For their part, the players have stood firm behind Fehr and have repeatedly stated they are more informed under his leadership than at any time in the union’s history.
“It’s clearly a tactic to drive a wedge between Don and the players,” Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador told CSNChicago.com. “It'’ nothing but a reiteration of how strong we are.
“It's laughable really, that the league would resort to tactics like this. They locked us out when they didn’t have to, and we didn't want it. “We’ve conceded massive amounts of dollars in their favor and we say enough is enough, and now this. They’re trying anything now.”
Where do talks go from here? Bettman told reporters he is willing to meet again this weekend if the NHLPA has something new to say.
“I don’t want to either raise or lower expectations,” he said. “I won’t be happy until we get to the end result and that means we’re playing again.”
Fehr seemed uncertain what the next step would be and when it would come.
“I don’t know what will happen next,” he said.