NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sides step back to catch breath

Timeout needed after Thursday's big meltdown

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NEW YORK -- A calm settled over the NHL's brewing labour storm one day after negotiations were untracked in spectacular fashion.

The league and NHL Players' Association took a step back Friday to evaluate where they stand and start charting a path forward in negotiations. They have yet to set a date to resume talks, but they'll have to return to the table soon to save a partial season.

Despite the fact that three days of negotiations ended with some personal public jabs between the sides, commissioner Gary Bettman balked at the notion a lack of trust with NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr was keeping them from closing a deal.

"There's no reason for anybody to suggest that trust is an issue," Bettman said Thursday night. "Listen, collective bargaining is hard stuff and sometimes it's made even harder depending on the goals and objectives that people have and organizations have.

"But the fact is you have professionals in the room."

The 12th week of the lockout was filled with spectacular highs and lows.

Optimism soared on Tuesday when four new owners joined the process and met well into the night with players, leading some close to the situation to believe that an agreement was at hand. Tempers flared during another marathon session Wednesday that saw the sides move closer together.

Then, on Thursday, Fehr handed over a comprehensive proposal to the NHL and told reporters that the sides had moved so close on key issues that a deal appeared to be imminent. Soon after, he returned to the conference room to say there had been a development -- "it's not a positive one" -- and that deputy commissioner Bill Daly had left a voicemail with his brother, special counsel Steve Fehr, notifying the union that the league was rejecting the proposal and taking its own offer off the table.

It was a turn of events unlike anything the Fehr brothers had ever seen during the decades they spent working for the baseball players union.

"Not only is it unusual, I would be hard pressed to think of anything comparable in my experience earlier and anybody else's that I'm aware of," said Steve Fehr.

To top things off, Bettman and Daly then held a 30-plus minute press conference where the commissioner was uncharacteristically angry. Among the shots he took at Fehr was questioning the union leader's motives for raising hopes after making the proposal.

"I'm not sure that spinning us all into an emotional frenzy over 'maybe we're close and we're going to be playing hockey tomorrow' (is productive)," said Bettman. "It's terribly unfair to our fans and it's unfair to this process."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2012 C2

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