Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Bettman spews venom at the NHLPA; Owners issue statements

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild off-season news Updated: December 6, 2012 - 7:56 PM

To recap: Donald Fehr decides to strut in front of the cameras and essentially announce to the hockey world that the NHL lockout was all but over. This, mysteriously after the NHLPA requested mediation two hours earlier.

As Fehr's announcing the union's belief that they have completely agreed on dollars with the league, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly leaves a voicemail for Fehr's brother, Steve, telling him the latest NHLPA proposal is rejected and talks are off.

Ten minutes after Donald Fehr told the hockey world the lockout was almost over, Fehr returns to deliver the news as players were about to talk to the press.

In New York tonight, Commissioner Gary Bettman angrily marched into the Westin and lambasted the union in a 34-minute news conference. At the end, reportedly, some players and Steve Fehr were even in the room listening to Bettman intently.

As I mentioned last night, the two sides were at a delicate juncture. It is now completely off the rails.

Bettman said the NHL's "Make Whole" concept, so critical to this process, is off the table, as is anything the NHL proposed this week.

This got beyond ugly tonight.

Here are snippets of what was said, and I present them to you with full regards to my hard-working colleagues who are were at the scene in New York. This is not ideal to report to you what happened this way, but it's all I got as I'm 36,000 feet up in the sky.

Bettman called this process, an emotional rollercoaster, and made clear that yesterday's final NHL proposal to the NHLPA was essentially take it or leave it.

"We were waiting today for a yes or a no. Not for a negotiation session," Bettman said.

"The key for all of us, particularly the owners, was to have a long-term deal. That's what fans, game, players, partners deserve."

He said the four new owners of the group, who as I mentioned nearly stormed out yesterday, “wanted to push ahead and do something bold.” That started with adding $100 million to the Make Whole offer.

When they did that, the league said pensions were a critical issue. Owners were furious feeling the players moved the goal posts.

Bettman took issue with Fehr telling everybody the two sides were so close and playing with the heartstrings of fans.

"The characterization that we were close, that reminds me of the last time the union said we were close and we were $1 billion apart," he said.

"I'm not sure spinning us into an emotional frenzy is terribly helpful," he added.

"They knew there was a major gulf between us and yet they came down here and told you we were close."

And, as I said on the previous blogs, "if we were so close why did we need mediation?"

Bettman said the league will take a deep breath and regroup, that "I am disappointed beyond belief we are where we are."

The deal is off the table. Daly said contract length (five years max, seven to re-sign your own players) is "the hill we will die on."

Bettman said there is no drop dead date, but indicated there had to be at least a 48-game season.

He says he's tormented by three lockouts under his watch and maybe having to cancel his second season, but he took a crack at the union, saying it's not easy to bargain when you have four executive directors in eight years.

He says the league is not worried about the union's threat to decertify.

"We are where we are as horrible as it is," Bettman said.

Back to me talking: I fear for the league now. Fans are disgusted, and tonight's news is frankly nauseating.

STATEMENTS FROM RON BURKLE, MARK CHIPMAN, LARRY TANENBAUM & JEFF VINIK

NEW YORK (December 6, 2012) -- Statements relative to their
participation in the collective bargaining agreement negotiations this week
were released tonight by Ron Burkle of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mark
Chipman of the Winnipeg Jets, Larry Tanenbaum of the Toronto Maple Leafs
and Jeff Vinik of the Tampa Bay Lightning, governors of their respective
teams:


Statement from Ron Burkle

The idea to put players and owners together in the same room was a
refreshing idea. Commissioner Bettman should be thanked for proposing it
and the Fehrs should be thanked for agreeing to it.

The players came with a strong desire to get back to playing hockey.
They were professional and did a good job of expressing their concerns and
listening to ours.

We wanted to move quickly and decisively. We have all spent too much
time without any real progress at the expense of our fans, our sponsor and
the communities we serve. It was time to make bold moves and get a deal.
Many people think we got over our skis and they are probably right, but we
wanted to do everything we could to get back to hockey now. We didn’t hold
back.

We made substantial movement on our end quickly, but unfortunately
that was not met with the same level of movement from the other side. The
players asked us to be patient and keep working with them. It’s not what
they do and they wanted us to know they were committed. We understood and
appreciated their situation. We came back with an aggressive commitment to
pensions which we felt was well received. We needed a response on key items
that were important to us, but we were optimistic that we were down to very
few issues. I believe a deal was within reach.

We were therefore surprised when the Fehrs made a unilateral and
“non-negotiable” decision – which is their right, to end the player/owner
process that has moved us farther in two days than we moved at any time in
the past months.

I want to thank the players involved for their hard work as we tried
to reach a deal.

I hope that going backwards does not prevent a deal.


Statement from Mark Chipman


Mark Chipman, Chairman and Governor of the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club, today
issued the following statement:

“I’d like to thank the NHL for giving me the opportunity to
participate in this very important process.

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.

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.”

Statement from Larry Tanenbaum


“I was pleased to be asked to join the Player/Owner negotiation
sessions. I had hoped that my perspective both as a businessman and as one
of the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs would be helpful to the process.
Like all other teams, this work stoppage has hurt our fans, our employees
and our business. Neither the owners nor the players will ever recover the
losses incurred with this work stoppage.

I understand how important it is to have a strong league and 30
healthy teams. I must admit that I was shocked at how things have played
out over the last 48 hours. The sessions on Tuesday felt cooperative with
an air of goodwill. I was optimistic and conveyed my optimism to the Board
of Governors at our Wednesday meeting. However, when we reconvened with the
players on Wednesday afternoon, it was like someone had thrown a switch.
The atmosphere had completely changed. Nevertheless, the owners tried to
push forward and made a number of concessions and proposals, which were not
well-received. I question whether the union is interested in making an
agreement.

I am very disappointed and disillusioned. Had I not experienced this
process myself, I might not have believed it. Like all hockey fans, I am
hopeful this situation can be resolved as soon as possible. I miss our
game.”


Statement from Jeff Vinik


Tampa Bay Lightning Chairman and Governor Jeff Vinik today issued the
follow statement today:

“After working this week with our players toward what we hoped would
be a new agreement, owners presented a proposal we believed would benefit
those great players, ownership, and, ultimately, our fans for many years
to come. While trust was built and progress was made along the way,
unfortunately, our proposal was rejected by the Union's leadership. My
love for the game is only superseded by my commitment to our fans and I
hold out hope we can soon join with our players and return the game back
to its rightful place on the ice.”

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