Just prior to Thursday's meeting with the NHLPA, Gary Bettman was confronted by a hockey fan named Barry Murphy, who told the commissioner that, as a fan, he felt disrespected and neglected. "What are you going to do to show us you care about us?" Murphy asked Bettman, according to Elliotte Friedman.
"We're going to get a deal done," Bettman responded.
It was yet another reason for optimism ahead of the meeting, which was precipitated by the NHL's surprise proposal to the players on Tuesday, offering a 50/50 revenue split and the same definition of hockey-related revenue to the players, and a faint glimmer of hope to fans. Might Camps Fehr and Bettman find some middle ground Thursday?
When the two sides emerged from the meeting just an hour later doing the Charlie Brown walk of sadness, it was clear things had gone badly. It was also clear, according to Bettman, that they weren't speaking the same language. From TSN:
"This is the best offer that we have to make," Bettman said of the proposal from the league earlier this week. "The fact is, we're nowhere close to what we proposed."
[...] "I don't know what the next step is," added Bettman. "I'm obviously very discouraged."
The players surprised the NHL with three offers. According to Bettman, none of them even began to approach the 50/50 revenue split of the NHL's most recent proposal.
One reason for that: the union wants all contracts honoured. In breaking down the latest breakdown in talks, Donald Fehr made specific mention of the deals signed this summer. "We'll get you to 50-50 but you have to agree to honor the contracts you have signed," he reportedly told Bettman.
According to Fehr, and in direct opposition to what Bettman told Barry Murphy, the players want to make a deal. Apparently, the owners don't. Fehr:
"The reason I say 'apparently they don't' is that after the proposal was made, they did what they have done before: they take very few minutes, they don't think about it, they don't analyze it, they don't talk to the other owners, they take less than 10 minutes... all three proposals are rejected in their entirety. And secondly, the proposal that we recently got is their best offer."
"They might be willing to tweak it around the edges -- a tweak is sort of a small and insubstantial thing, and they agreed -- but that's it, and that's what we're supposed to do."
"And when you think about it, if you assume that's their best offer, why in the world did we see it four weeks into a lockout? ... I can't answer that question."
Fehr summarized the meeting thusly: "The vibe we got was, unless you're prepared to sign with very minor variations, don't bother us.'"
The damning characterization of the NHL likely has something to do with combatting the way the NHL's proposal set the players up to look like the badguys.
Let's not fool ourselves. Disappointed though Bettman may be, he's nowhere near as disappointed as hockey fans are, and that was sort of the point. The NHL's offer was designed to stoke fan optimism and force the NHLPA to crush it, putting the pressure on the players to make concessions and save face.
In that sense, today went exactly how it was supposed to go, and I'd say Barry Murphy has every right to feel he just got the Cindy Lou Who treatment.
Unreported by Friedman: when Murphy asked, "Why are you stealing our Christmas tree?" Bettman responded, "I'm taking it home to my workshop, my dear. I'll fix it up there. Then I'll bring it back here."
Now, the season dangles perilously on the edge of a metaphorical Mount Crumpit. For a deal to get done, someone's heart is going to have to grow three sizes.
"Today is not a good day," said Fehr. "It should have been, but it wasn't."
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