Spinning folks into an emotional frenzy.
The gap is not unbridgeable.
Or is it?
The quotes from the podium were coming in fast and furious on Thursday as the CBA negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA hit another snag.
If you didn’t have a front-row seat at home watching on TV or were close to a computer screen following via Twitter, you probably wouldn’t have believed what was happening right before your very eyes.
Although it was becoming clear the mood was shifting from cautious optimism to varying degrees of pessimism, the pendulum swung back to the positive side after NHLPA executive director Don Fehr stepped to the podium and said the players had given a lot in negotiations and he felt a deal could be finalized soon.
But as players were doing scrums on the scene with reporters, Fehr re-emerged at the podium to announce the NHL had informed them — by voice mail — that the moves the players made were not acceptable.
“It looks like this is not going to be resolved in the immediate future. I hope that I’m wrong. But that seems to be where we are today,” said Fehr.
Gary Bettman and Bill Daly took the podium next and spoke for more than 30 minutes. The commish was visibly upset and the frustration was evident in his tone.
Bettman also made it clear that anything brought to the table this week in negotiations were now off the table, including the $300 million on the proposed “make whole” provision.
Later, a series of statements were released by the four new owners that were added to the negotiating process this week, including one from Jets governor and co-owner Mark Chipman, who thanked the league for involving him in the process and expressed his disappointment to fans and sponsors for not being able to bring the lockout to an end:
I came here optimistic that we could find a solution. That sense of optimism grew after our first few sessions, including the small group discussions late last night.
Regrettably, we have been unable to close the divide on some critical issues that we feel are essential to the immediate and long-term health of our game.
While I sense there are some members of the players association that understand our perspective on these issues, clearly there are many that don’t.
A little later in the evening, I had an opportunity to speak with Jets player rep Ron Hainsey from New York, minutes before he had to jump back onto an NHLPA conference call.
Immediately, I asked him where the players go from here?
“We’ve got to talk to the players, we’re going to have a call tonight. We’ll go back to them tonight and see where they’re at.”
I also asked Hainsey what the most frustrating part of the day was?
“Yeah, there a little confusion about what took place. It seemed like the meeting was productive. We thought we actually had closed a couple items out, pending clarification on some pension stuff. And that the money (for make whole) was close, if not done.”
Since the Bettman presser wasn’t being shown live in the US like it was in Canada, Hainsey made his way down to the room where the commissioner was speaking because he wanted to listen in.
“The response was very strange,” Hainsey said. “I really don’t know what to think. It’s kind of perplexing. We thought it was going pretty good. It really felt like we were close to getting this game back on the ice, if we could polish it off.
“I really felt that way for the first time in a while.”
Hainsey also brought up the fact that the tone seemed to change when he informed the owners side that Fehr needed to rejoin the discussions to try and close the deal, noting he was told that could “potentially be a deal-breaker.”
In closing, I asked Hainsey about Chipman’s involvement in the meetings but he didn’t provide an expansive answer. After all, the NHLPA was trying to get its message out and their priority is not to heap praise on the owners.
“We talked at length in there. It was good, candid conversation, from the whole group, including (Chipman),” said Hainsey. “Then the group tone changed when we said that we said we thought we were close and were ready to bring our leadership back in to close (the deal) out. The feeling changed, that’s just what happened. I thought we were close to getting going.”
Although Thursday was obviously a dark day, but I’m not ready to concede the season is lost. There’s still time to get a deal done and for at least 48 games (if not 54 or 56) to be played.
This is not blind faith, my genuine belief is that both sides have come too far in negotiations to lose another season.
Only time will tell.