As has been the case during this topsy-turvy NHL lockout, just when there appeared to be traction toward a new collective bargaining agreement after a late night bargaining session Wednesday, things came to a screeching halt Thursday.
Both sides failed to meet in a big, formal bargaining session as more mistrust came to the forefront (more on this below). The players then began a 48-hour vote last night to again give authorization to the union to file a disclaimer of interest and essentially dissolve. As of this moment, both sides have met today with a federal mediator, but no bargaining session has been scheduled despite the league’s request.
Remember, Commissioner Gary Bettman has said a deal must be reached by Jan. 11 for training camp to begin Jan. 12 and a season to start Jan. 19.
Down in Edina this morning, more than two-dozen NHLers skated with purpose as they hope we’re days away from a new CBA and training camp. “Cautiously optimistic” was the way most described their feelings (we’ve heard that before), and as one player said, there’s some relief because at least we know we’re a week away from some kind of conclusion to this madness – lockout ending or the season being canceled.
“I’ve been the eternal optimist, so in the grand scheme of things, with how close everything really is, I can’t imagine that it’ll blow up and they’ll cancel everything,” said Wild forward Zach Parise. “It’ll be pretty stupid to do that.”
On Thursday, the NHLPA essentially accused the league of doing a bait and switch – adding new language to the section of hockey-related revenue and how teams would be punished if they were caught hiding HRR after the midnight Jan. 2 deadline expired for Don Fehr to inform the league the union was disclaiming interest.
The league completely denies the accusation.
The way league sources have explained it to me is that on Dec. 27, the NHL emailed a 300-page proposal to Fehr directly. There was a 21-page synopsis and then 200-plus pages of the pertinent CBA articles.
Under Article 50 and throughout the articles, any change in language was underlined and put in bold like any changes would be in a legal document.
Whether the NHLPA lawyers didn’t catch it or not, there have been subsequent counteroffers or responses back and forth and that language was no longer underlined or put in bold because the language was no longer new.
On Thursday, the NHLPA apparently discovered this changed language from previous proposals and the perception was the league hardened its stances conveniently after the threat of the disclaimer had passed.
Regardless, the NHLPA brought this to the league’s attention, this language has been changed back and the situation is rectified, according to league sources. Nevertheless, on last night’s conference call between NHLPA leadership and players, the players were ticked, believing the league tried to slip something by them.
“I would hope that it’s a misunderstanding,” Parise said. “I would hope that there’s a little more trust involved and a little more honor in the negotiating process, so I would hope that it was just a misunderstanding.”
Parise echoed what a lot of players that have been skating in Minnesota have told me: “I try not to follow it too closely. It gets too stressful. Too much of a roller coaster. You know, tell me when it’s over.”
(Many of the players skating in Minnesota have not involved themselves in the NHLPA/NHL bargaining sessions and no Wild players other than Zenon Konopka have attended any).
So, it sounds like this was a misunderstanding at worst, yet it’s blown up into a trust issue and threatening the process again. Now the players are tossing on the disclaimer threat again.
And, I’m telling you, if the players file a disclaimer of interest, I believe the season is over. There is no chance whatsoever that the league would sign a waiver to allow Fehr to represent the players as a trade association. And if that were the case, would the players feel comfortable bargaining without Fehr at the table?
Doubtful. And once this gets into the courts, things are off the rails and a whole world of uncertainty about the future enters this mess.
So as has often been the case in this lockout, we’re at another fragile juncture.
Mistrust has cropped up again, as you can read in this story by the New York Post’s Larry Brooks on how Bettman apparently ticked off the players yesterday.
But to echo what Devils beat writer Tom Gulitti (@tgfireandice) wrote perfectly on Twitter: “My 2 cents: Bettman says things that anger players. Fehr does things that anger league/owners. Get over it, be adults and negotiate.” And “Are you seriously going to cancel a season because someone wasn't nice to you in a forum in which things often get contentious?”
As Parise said, these two sides are close. Just get it done. They’ve both basically agreed on a $10-year CBA, the league will do the two 2013-14 per team compliance buyouts the union wants, the NHL has changed the variance from an original 5 percent wish to 30 percent, revenue sharing is agreed upon.
The open issues: The players want a $65 million upper limit in 2013-14, the league wants $60 million (meet in the middle), the league wants six-year max contracts (seven when you re-sign your own player), the players want eight. A very complex pension situation must be rectified.
That is it! These two sides really going to risk this league/careers over these tiny details?
Wake up, get back to the table, get back on the ice and repair the damage caused.
Former North Stars coach and GM Wren Blair has died at age 87. Here is his obituary from assistant sports editor Chris Miller. I have spoken with Lou Nanne and Tom Reid and have a call into Bobby Orr. I will have that in Saturday’s newspaper.
I will also blog later on the world junior championships. The U.S. plays Sweden at 7 a.m. CT Saturday (NHL Network, I spoke late last night to Minnesotan players Mike Reilly and Mario Lucia and assistant coach Grant Potulny in Russia.

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Don Lucia on Haula, Notre Dame; Bjugstad, Wilcox honored; NHL update

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Reilly, Lucia, Potulny go for gold with the U.S. at the world junior championships