After several days of promising negotiations, NHL CBA talks break down once again. Read on for the latest reports & analysis.


NHL CBA talks break down once again.

TSN.CA: NHL CBA negotiations broke down once again as the NHL rejected the NHLPA’s attempt to negotiate off the league’s latest proposal, which NHL negotiators claimed the PA had to accept in its entirety. Though PA director Donald Fehr claimed in his press conference the two sides were close (particularly on the money issues), a visibly upset NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman denied this during his own press conference, accusing the PA of continually changing the issues it would find agreeable for a deal. Central to the league’s proposal was a CBA ten years in length (with an opt-out option at year eight), five year term limits on player contracts (which deputy commissioner Bill Daly calls “the hill we’re going to die 0n”), and no variance options. The four “moderate” owners who participated in this week’s negotiations (Toronto’s Larry Tanenbaum, Winnipeg’s Mark Chipman, Pittsburgh’s Ron Burkle and Tampa Bay’s Jeff Vinik) subsequently issued statements following Bettman’s press conference, sharing the commissioner’s disappointment and frustration over the collapse of this week’s talks.

YAHOO! SPORTS: Nicholas J. Cotsonika believes that, despite the tragicomic theater of this week’s CBA negotiations, the drama appears to be approaching a climax. He points out Fehr’s effectiveness at “frustrating the owners with his moving targets – from revenue sharing to honoring contracts to pensions – and ignoring the owners’ deadlines and ultimatums”, pointing out Bettman has made his best multiple offers, only to return with better ones each time. Cotsonika suggests that’s led Fehr to believe the owners’ last best offer has yet to come.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’s been effective, but there’s also the danger Fehr could overplay his hand. Already there’s talk now the owners despise him, which could push supposed moderates who seek a season-saving deal more firmly behind Bettman and the hawkish owners. Still, one can’t fault Fehr for his tactics, which have so far, as Cotsonika pointed out, resulted in the league coming back with better offers. Given how close both sides now are to a deal, I believe the league has one more offer to make.

CBC.CA: Elliotte Freidman examines the options remaining for the players in the wake of the latest collapse in CBA talks, plus noted Bettman ducked questions about a “drop dead date” to get a season-saving deal done. “He did admit however, that the 48-game season of 1995 (puck drop: Jan. 20) is the baseline of what he considers an acceptable schedule”, wrote Friedman, suggesting we’ve got a little over another month of negotiations to go. Friedman also maintains a lack of trust between the two sides remains an issue.

Tim Wharnsby focused upon Bettman apparently setting a 48-game schedule as his benchmark for a season. He also posted a list of the NHL Board of Governors.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Obviously, Bettman and the owners would prefer an earlier return in order to get in more games than that this season, but at least now we’ve got a reasonably clear picture of just how far the league is willing to go before they finally announce a deadline to end the season.

TORONTO SUN: Terry Koshan published a copy of the e-mail Donald Fehr sent last night to the NHLPA membership listing the key points from the negotiations, including Fehr’s belief there is an agreement on dollars, plus the PA’s proposal for eight-year term limits on player contracts, an eight year CBA (with a six-year opt out), and ” variability limit of 25% over the term of the SPC, applied to contracts of 7 years or longer.”

NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks cited “a source on the players side” claiming the league is merely attempting to create dissent among the ranks of the NHLPA, trying to scare the players into making a deal”. Brooks also reports the NHLPA “will consider disclaiming, which is the first step to decertification and likely sooner rather than later. Bettman said the Board had been briefed on the possibility during its meeting on Wednesday and did not regard such a hypothetical step as particularly dramatic.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ah, the return of the “D” word. Didn’t take long for that to reappear following the latest breakdown in negotiations. Yes, it’s an option which may have moved further up in the players’ deck of options, and the PA could indeed start the proceedings within the next couple of weeks, but that doesn’t mean negotiations will come to a screeching halt if they do. The league may consider it a bluff, but it could still provide incentive for another round of talks.

ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: Anaheim Ducks player Daniel Winnik, who took part in this week’s negotiations, was “baffled” by the league’s reaction to the PA’s proposal. “This is clearly their boldest move they’ve made,” Winnik said. “And to think that if everything’s off the table and everything that was done since June or the first time we met is all gone, it is insane to me.”…”That’s just insane to think that any progress we made is gone because we refused to accept those contracting rights.”

DENVER POST: Adrian Dater suggests it seems more than a coincidence pensions became a significant issue for the PA only a couple of days after reports emerged of retired senior players currently struggling because their pension benefits were cut off by the lack of a new CBA. He also wondered why, if the two sides were as close as Fehr claimed, did the NHLPA earlier in the day request federal mediators return to the talks. Dater also doubts Bettman is bluffing over yanking the  league’s latest “make whole” provision ($300 million) off the table, can’t believe the players are willing to risk the lose of a season over contract term limits, and took Fehr to task for his “passive-aggressive, soulless look” during his press conference last night.

Dater also cited “a depth player” who claimed “we were ready to play again” but Fehr came in on Wednesday “and told us we could get more and to hold out.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fehr’s demeanor aside, Dater does raise interesting points over how pensions suddenly became a hot topic for the players, and the PA’s request for the return of federal mediators. I also share his concern regarding the players apparent willingness at this point to put negotiations for a season-saving deal in jeopardy over term limits. As for the seriousness of Bettman’s claim of the make whole proposal coming off the table, perhaps he is, but given how often he’s backtracked with each successive offer since July, it’s difficult to take that claim at face value. You can only cry “wolf!” so often before folks stop believing you.

ESPN.COM: Pierre LeBrun expressed his frustration over the latest turn in negotiations, accusing both sides of “pure madness”. “Are we really going to drop the ax on an entire season because the owners are THAT adamant about five-year term limits for player contracts? And are the players THAT opposed to five-year contract term limits that they will let an entire season’s worth of salary go down the drain?” Still, LeBrun doesn’t see the two sides being that far apart now, suggesting cooler heads should prevail, and calling on both sides to stop the politics and get a deal done.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I concur with LeBrun’s take. For all the posturing and rhetoric, the two sides are much closer to a deal now than at any point since negotiations opened back in July. Bettman said their side would take some time to “draw a deep breath” and examine where they go from here, which the PA is also likely to do. A deal is there to be done, it’s now a question of how long it takes until they resume talks.

NATIONAL POST: Bruce Arthur isn’t buying into the rhetoric coming from the league’s side, as he believes they’ve beaten the players. “The owners have crushed them. They have gotten players to agree to a 50-50 split of revenues from 57-43, plus US$300-million in payments to honour parts of existing contracts which would be rolled back, though US$50-million of that is players paying their own pensions. They have pushed the length of the collective bargaining agreement, no matter what, and have put limits on contract lengths. They have held steady on arbitration, and age of unrestricted free agency. It is a rout. All that’s left is finding out how much of a rout it is.” Arthur believes “the league is going to win, but not without cost”.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Arthur summed things up perfectly with that paragraph. The league got what it wanted, and Fehr is merely trying to minimize the damage to his clients and get the best, least painful deal he can. Besides, I think the real concern, from Bettman’s side, is getting a deal which limits the possibility of its exploitation by the owners once the lockout ends.  We all know owner solidarity flies out the window when the puck is dropped, as they immediately seek loopholes to exploit to their own benefit at the expense of the others. It’s how they roll. They’ve done it before, they’ll do it again. Survival of the fittest and all that. 

SPORTSNET.CA: Michael Grange wasn’t impressed with Bettman’s emotional response, accusing the commissioner of playing the role of “bad boyfriend”, and believes the two sides are much closer to a deal. “It’s time for the NHL owners and Bettman to get over the petty things the NHLPA does that makes them mad and recognize that like it or not, they’re stuck with each other.”

THE SPORTING NEWS: Jesse Spector on how the NHL was rejecting the NHLPA’s counter offer even while Donald Fehr was attempting to put a positive spin on things during his press conference.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL: Eric Duhatschek draws comparison to December 2004 and the last NHL lockout, while Ken Dryden suggests pride (especially among the players) is fueling the labor dispute.