Talks stall again as NHL rejects latest player offer
NEW YORK (AFP) –
Talks between owners and players to end the NHL lockout stalled again, quashing optimism that had built during the week that a shortened season could yet be saved.
After marathon meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday had offered a glimmer of hope to NHL fans, the league rejected a proposal by players and talks between the battling sides were suspended indefinitely.
“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,” Winnipeg Jets chairman Mark Chipman said in a statement, released on Thursday.
“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. I am deeply disappointed that we were unable to bring this extremely unfortunate situation to a successful conclusion and I wish to apologize to our fans and sponsors for letting them down.”
Both sides have been deadlocked on how to divide $3.3 billion in revenue since their collective bargaining agreement expired on September 15.
The work stoppage has already forced the cancellation of regular-season games through December 14. That’s 422 regular-season games, 34.3 percent of a season that was to have started on October 11.
Also cancelled are two marquee events: the annual outdoor Winter Classic and the All-Star Game.
The longer the stalemate continues, the greater the prospect that it will cost the entire season — as when the 2004-05 season was wiped out in a labor dispute.
Last week, a federal mediator met with both sides for two days before concluding that they were too far apart for mediation to succeed.
But after groups of players and owners had met for a total of almost 20 hours over the past two days, reportedly exchanging new proposals, it appeared they might have finally found some common ground.
Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle said it was a good idea to put players and owners together to talk — without their lead negotiators — but in the end he said the latest players’ counter-offer didn’t go far enough to address owners’ concerns.
“We made substantial movement on our end quickly, but unfortunately that was not met with the same level of movement from the other side,” Burkle said, adding that at one point there was optimism “that we were down to very few issues.”
“I believe a deal was within reach,” he added.
NHL Players Association executive director Don Fehr told reporters the sides could be close to an agreement.
But union special counsel Steve Fehr, his brother, then received a voicemail from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, rejecting the union’s proposal, causing Don Fehr to backtrack and tell reporters: “It looks like this is not going to be resolved in the immediate future.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said no further meetings were scheduled,
“I am disappointed beyond belief that we are where we are tonight and we’re going to have to take a deep breath and regroup,” he said.