A day after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his negotiating committee swiftly rejected three variations of a players’ counter-proposal, the league on Friday cancelled another week of games from the regular-season schedule.
The NHL scrapped 53 more games, from Oct. 25 to Nov. 1, bringing the total of cancelled games to 135.
Some of the matches scheduled during this block of cancelled games included: a Rangers-Senators playoff rematch in Ottawa on Oct. 28; a meeting between Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle and his old team, the Anaheim Ducks, two nights later; as well as Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin in Washington on Halloween Night.
Although no talks between the NHL and the NHLPA have been scheduled after Thursday’s disappointing get-together in Toronto, there is the possibility that the two sides could miraculously strike a deal on a new collective agreement next week and still save a full 82-game schedule.
On Tuesday, Bettman presented the players with a proposal that called for a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues and an Oct. 25 deadline to accept. This would allow for a one-week training camp and a Nov. 2 start date for an 82-game schedule.
On Thursday, the NHLPA exhibited a willingness for a 50-50 split as long as the owners would honour the full value of their current contracts up front.
It took Bettman and his negotiating committee only 10 minutes before they rejected the players’ counter-proposal. This development angered players like Sidney Crosby, who was one of 18 players present when the two sides met on Thursday in Toronto.
"You come with three proposals, thinking you have a chance to gain momentum, and it’s shut down within 10 minutes," Crosby said, calling the owners’ proposals to date "hardline offers."
"It’s not even given a day to think about or crunch numbers. It’s shut down within minutes. That doesn’t seem like a group that’s willing to negotiate. I mean that’s pretty clearly take it or leave it."
Strong emotions were evident on both sides on Thursday.
We asked labour expert Dan Oldfield, the lead negotiator for the Canadian Media Guild, how the sides can get rid of those emotions or at least stop them from getting in the way of future negotiations.
"It's a tough one," Oldfield said. "A little time to reflect wouldn't hurt. The message delivered by Bettman is unless you agree to our deal it's no deal. I think the league is overestimating the players’ hunger for a deal. The league is dealing with a smart and tight group this time.
"In fact, in my view the NHL stumbled out of the blocks with its first proposal. It was so backward and offensive it gave [NHLPA executive director Donald] Fehr the opportunity to rally his folks and solidify positions.
"A deal by force simply won't work this time. I've been in negotiations where we fell in love with our proposals and lost focus on what we needed to accomplish. By locking in on the method you shut out a lot of possibilities for resolution."