The only talking the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association did Friday was to the media.
Less than 24 hours after the union learned Gary Bettman had suggested the two adversaries take a break from negotiations, some players lashed out at the commissioner and claimed he didn’t want to make a deal.
Unlike Chris Chelios in 1994, nobody expressed any concern about Bettman’s safety, but Detroit Red Wings defenceman Ian White did question the intelligence of the league’s top man during a candid session with Motown reporters.
“I gotta be honest: I personally think he’s an idiot,” White said. “Since he’s come in, I think he’s done nothing but damage the game.”
The NHL and the Players’ Association didn’t hold talks for a collective bargaining agreement Friday and there likely won’t be any in the near future and Bettman suggested the two sides take a two-week hiatus.
While the union is prepared -- and wants -- to return to the bargaining table, the league is convinced the two sides have nothing to talk about until the NHLPA is ready to negotiate some small points and sign the deal that the league put on the table.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told QMI Agency in an email that Bettman came up with the idea of a break after NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr suggested he wasn’t sure what steps the two sides should take next.
“It was suggested only in response to (Fehr) saying he didn’t know how to proceed from here,” said Daly.
Speaking on Hockey Night in Canada Radio, Fehr indicated the two sides had conversations Friday and he remained hopeful there wouldn’t actually be a 14-day break.
“We were told earlier this week when I asked, ‘How do we get back together if we’re not meeting?’ and the response was, ‘Maybe we should just take a two-week moratorium.’ I hope it doesn’t turn into that,” said Fehr.
“We’ve been prepared to meet on any day to try and work through things on the theory that whatever likelihood we have of reaching an agreement it has to be higher if we’re meeting and talking than if we’re several hundred miles apart and not meeting and not talking.”
League insiders say Bettman has been instructed by the owners not to go any further in negotiations with the players. He doesn’t have any wiggle room after putting a 50-50 deal on the table last month.
“(Bettman) is done,” said the insider. “Pointless to pretend (he’s going to go any further) and give false hope.”
The NHLPA isn’t opposed to a 50-50 split in revenues -- which were $3.3-billion last season -- but they want the road there to be gradual. Sources say Bettman is under major pressure from the owners to get there right away.
The union insists the players are the only ones who have given up any meaningful concessions by offering to go to 50-50 over the terms of a five-year agreement that will result in putting $1-billion in the owners’ pockets.
Many believe Bettman offering up a break is a bargaining ploy. American Thanskgiving is next Thursday. That means no talks through the holidays, more cancelled games and another missed paycheque for the players on Nov. 30.
Daly said if the union wants to talk they can pick up the phone. Both sides are entrenched in their positions. Neither wants to move. The NHL doesn’t see any rush to get back to the table if there’s nothing to discuss.
“Not sure there is anything new to say,” said Daly. “(The NHLPA) knows where we are. They know where there is flexibility and room to negotiate and they know where there’s not. Up to them what they want to do with it.”
Where this negotiation heads now is anybody’s guess but it would appear to be going nowhere fast.