Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL angrily breaks off labor talks

All NHL owners wanted from players Thursday was a yes or no concerning the league's latest offer.

Instead, the players association wanted to negotiate, commissioner Gary Bettman said. And with that, the league angrily broke off talks on a collective bargaining agreement.

Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly spewed venom during a news conference as the 83-day lockout of players hit its nadir with the season in more peril than ever. Daly called the union's actions "insulting to our owners." Bettman said, "Anything we put on the table this week is off. … I am disappointed beyond belief we are where we are. We're going to have to take a deep breath and try to regroup."

If that doesn't happen quickly, the league — which already has canceled games through Dec. 14, the Jan. 1 Winter Classic and the All-Star Game — will cancel more of the season.

With no new negotiations scheduled, grim union head Donald Fehr conceded, "This looks like it's not going to be resolved in the near future."

It went south quickly, considering the goodwill that came out of two days of meetings at a New York hotel between six owners, including the Lightning's Jeff Vinik, and as many as 18 players, including Tampa Bay's Marty St. Louis and B.J. Crombeen.

Owners increased to $300 million from $211 million money in the "make-whole" provision that partially guarantees current player contracts when the players' share of revenue is slashed to 50 percent from 57 percent. Owners also agreed to retain rules for rookie contracts (three years), unrestricted free agency (27 years old or seven years in the league) and salary arbitration.

Fehr, about 30 minutes before Bettman spoke Thursday, even indicated a deal was close. But Bettman said that was "incomprehensible" because players had to agree to three issues "vitally important to the owners."

• A deal of 10 years with a reopen option after eight.

• A five-year contract limit, though teams could sign their own free agents for seven. "A hill we're willing to die on," Daly said.

• No amnesty buyouts next season of unwanted contracts and no limits on player escrow payments. "Money outside the system," Daly said, and non-starters.

The union proposed an eight-year deal with a reopen for players after six years and maximum eight-year contracts. It also raised concerns about the pension plan.

"We were expecting an answer, yes or no," Bettman said. "If the answer is no, there is no point continuing the discussions. (Thursday) wasn't intended to be a negotiating session. … Spinning us all into an emotional frenzy over 'Maybe we're close to a deal' … is terribly unfair to our fans and unfair to the process."

Where do things go from here? The union could pursue decertification; antitrust laws prohibit employers from locking out nonunion workers. The league must consider a drop-dead date to cancel the season; Bettman said that had not been determined.

"I hold out hope we can join with our players and return the game back to its rightful place on the ice," Vinik said in a statement.

"I'm very discouraged," St. Louis said. "We try to engage them and keep negotiating, but unless you say yes to what they want, there is no deal.

"Time to take off, maybe go on a vacation."

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