Any hopes for an end to the 82-day NHL lockout this weekend -- or soon -- were dashed Thursday night in a strange manner.
First, the NHLPA responded to a league proposal in a way that the union believed moved the sides close to an agreement in many areas. But the NHL quickly rejected the response via voicemail while union chief Donald Fehr was addressing the media in Manhattan. When he returned after finding out about the call, Fehr said, "It looks like this is not going to be resolved in the immediate future."
Moments later, at the same podium, an emotional commissioner Gary Bettman said, "I am disappointed beyond belief where we are tonight." He accused Fehr of misrepresenting how close the two sides were.
Three major issues have to be resolved: The league wants players to accept a five-year limit on player contracts, a 10-year collective-bargaining agreement with an eighth-year re-opener, and no buyouts and escrow limits. "We needed those three elements," Bettman said. "We needed a 'yes' or 'no.' This is a whole package."
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly called the five-year limit on contracts "a hill we will die on."
The union prefers a seven-year limit on free-agent contracts for players signing with the same team, an eight-year CBA with a six-year option, and some buyout and escrow flexibility.
The breakdown came after Tuesday's positive vibrations after a long players-owners- only meeting in Manhattan, followed by a testy session Wednesday.
"There was a great deal of optimism," Bettman said. "We reported that to the board of governors. That disappeared, almost inexplicably, Wednesday afternoon. The owners [six who were in the talks this week] were beside themselves."
Fehr had said the union "responded comprehensively to the various issues that had been the focus of discussions for last several days" and called it "a clear outline to end this particular dispute."
Bettman disagreed with that assessment, said the league's $89 million that was added to $211 million this week to guarantee existing contracts in the transition is "off the table," and added that the league is not interested in further assistance from federal mediators.