May 24, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Watching the back-and-forth of negotiations and duelling press conferences between the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association was riveting drama for a few hours Thursday night.
But then there came a point when even the most-fervent optimist must have felt like his heart had been ripped from his chest -- especially after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Don Fehr both indicated the progress made earlier in the week had screeched to a halt and talks had been shelved.
Ladies and gentlemen, Bryan Little of the Winnipeg Jets:
"I didn’t plan on (watching the press conferences), but I turned to it and I was watching it for about an hour and a half. I was pretty much glued to it and was interested to see what both sides had to say.
"I was really disappointed. Listening to Don talk, for the most part it was positive and first and then he came back and it kinda went downhill from there. And then when Gary came up it didn’t look good and you could tell he was frustrated. When he was talking you could tell there is still a lot of work to be done and there’s a huge gap still.
"It was strange to watch that, to be honest," added Little. "It didn’t really seem like it was organized. Don was up there talking and within minutes he got that phone call and came on and it was pretty much downhill and all negative from there. It dragged on and I turned the channel after awhile because Gary was talking for awhile. After it started to get negative I didn’t care what he said, I just wanted to turn the TV and go to bed.
"I watched the football game for a bit and I’m not even a football fan."
Now the question is where the talks go from here. There are reports it is expected that after the two sides cool off and perhaps touch base this weekend, that negotiations could begin again early next week.
It is expected the NHL will cancel another chunk of games – they’ve already spiked all contests up until Dec. 14 – with that announcement possibly coming Friday or Monday.
But there’s also a hope that some of the traction made earlier last week can be rediscovered when talks resume. The NHL offered a package that increased the deferred transition money paid to the players to $300 million under a 10-year agreement and also included term limits on player contracts.
The NHLPA wants to negotiate off that offer, but the league insists it will not negotiate against itself and has pulled the proposal.
"Hopefully today brings some new things and we can move on from there," said Jim Slater. "Going from last night, it didn’t look good. But the guys here, we’re still positive we’re going to get something done at some point... maybe not here in the next little while but hopefully down the road."