Fans of the National Hockey League received what they have come to expect over the course of the past few months on Thursday night...bitter disappointment.
The day began at the tail end of a social media frenzy - known to many as #PodiumWatch - where an NHL collective bargaining agreement seemed imminent. Representatives of both the owners and the player's union had reported progress and it appeared that the league might be back in business. Unfortunately, it seems that all of the positive momentum from negotiations on Tuesday and early Wednesday only served to deepen the emotional free-fall when everything collapsed.
This writer left his day job around 5:00 PM EST to peruse the Westin Times Square in hopes of finding an amusing anecdote for tomorrow's conversation around the water cooler. Instead, I found myself following Don Fehr and the rest of the NHLPA delegation into the press room, where I lingered for the remainder of the evening.
The NHLPA began the evening with a seemingly realistic proposal. Phantom tweets had been suggesting that negotiations had tanked, but Fehr's remarks made it clear that progress was still being made and that a deal was on the horizon. After only a few minutes, reporters and players alike began to whisper that a response had come from the league. Not long after that, Fehr returned to the room with some disappointing news.
Astoundingly, the NHL had left a voicemail for the Player's Association (since they were still busy announcing their proposal) telling them to call off negotiations for the immediate future. The league's rejection was so immediate that they did not even wait for the NHLPA to leave their own press conference. Later, Daly would try and say that he was unaware of their unavailability, but the speed of their response still strikes a chord.
About 20 minutes later, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly came into the same room and gave a press conference of their own.
As Bettman's conference progressed, it became increasingly apparent that the NHL felt betrayed by the Player's Association. Last night, the NHL offered the union a hard contentious and emotionally strained "take it or leave it proposal". Fehr balked at the proposal. Bettman responded emotionally and recoked all of the league's previous concessions. The negotiations have taken a large step in the wrong direction.
The division between the two parties is obvious (and typical) enough. The Player's Association blamed the owners for their tightly drawn purse strings, while the league bemoaned the union's constant demands for concession. Most fans will inevitably take sides on who is to blame, but the reality is that both are undeniably at fault.
Negotiations, which had been progressing quite nicely earlier in the week, were intentionally stalled by Fehr. He reportedly told the players that they could get a better deal if they just held out a little while longer. Bettman's exasperation and anger at this delay was evident during the press conference.
The specifics of their disagreement will be investigated and critiqued for the foreseeable future - the league wants shorter player contracts and a longer CBA, while the players look for security and protection with longer contracts and new pension plans. The most frustrating part of this drama seems to be that all parties expected to come away from the Westin with a new CBA. Success was an attainable possibility, but one that narrowly seems to have escaped.
Neither Bettman nor Fehr can claim a stellar record in regards to negotiating success. This season is Bettman's third consecutive work stoppage. A cancelled season will be only the third in the leagues history - the second under Bettman. Fehr, on the other hand, is famous for being the player's representative that almost killed baseball. Putting these two in a room is not a good formula for compromise.
We Coyotes fans, however, have more immediate and existential issues to worry about. Regardless of the labor issues, our team must find an owner soon. Greg Jamison sits prepared to sign on the dotted line, but we know all too well the fallacy of hype and rumors. Despite the malaise enveloping the rest of the league, our desert forecast remains, as always, sunny.