Like lake-effect snow streaming out of Toronto, the NHL and its players' association Thursday threw a cold blanket over optimism that bloomed two days earlier over a possible end to the ongoing lockout.
Negotiations broke down when the league not only waved off counter offers from the union, but left commissioner Gary Bettman thinking that "it's clear we're not speaking the same language."
Talks between the two sides lasted just an hour, during which the NHLPA presented three proposals as a counter to the "50-50" offer put forth Tuesday by the NHL.
Bettman dismissed all three as "variations to some degree to the one proposal that they made over the summer."
Bettman used phrases such as "extraordinarily unhappy" and "thoroughly disappointed."
Whether this is hardball negotiating or the setting for a dire outcome -- such as the cancellation of the full 2012-13 season -- remains to be seen.
"In a nutshell, it doesn't look good right now," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, one of 18 players who attended the meeting. He added that "this wasn't a step in the right direction."
The NHL attached a renewed sense of urgency to negotiations when proposing their first deal since the start of the lockout, saying that if things can be settled by late next week, a full season could be salvaged and would start Nov. 2. Players expressed concern over definitions and contractual language in the proposal.
The NHLPA countered with three alternatives for the NHL to consider -- something Crosby said the league did for about 10 minutes.
"That doesn't seem like a group willing to negotiate," Crosby said.
A month ago, just before the lockout began, Bettman flatly said the owners believe they are paying the players too much.
Fehr outlined a gap in philosophy Thursday when he said the players are willing to take less than the 57 percent of defined league revenues they got under the expired CBA, as long as they aren't asked to take actual paycuts, something he sees as possible given the steady growth of those revenues.
With that in mind, Fehr gave an overview of the three proposals:
Deal one -- The first three years would have a fixed player share, which would be negotiated. If revenues do not reach the point where that share was 50 percent, the negotiated share would be frozen for the final three years. If the revenue growth is 5 percent, which the NHL used in its proposal this week, the players would reach 50 percent in the fifth year. If growth remains at the recent 7.2 percent rate, the players would reach 50.6 percent in the third year. If growth is even bigger, the players would get a share of that extra growth.
Deal two -- The players get 24.7 percent of the growth in revenue for five years, which would drop them to 50 percent by the third year if that growth is 5 percent, to under 51 percent by the third year if the growth is 7.2 percent.
Deal three -- The players accept a 50-50 split if the owners honor all existing contracts in full. Fehr admitted the NHLPA had not crunched the numbers on this but decided to "float it" anyway.
The final one might prove most intriguing and addresses a union concern that several long-term, high-priced contracts signed in the offseason were done with the idea that owners would get a break on them under a new CBA.
"All we ask is they honor the current contracts we're under, and they keep finding ways not to do that," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said.
Fehr said of the third deal, "We think it makes a lot of sense. We think it really is fair. It couldn't be more balanced. What it doesn't do is have the players give back billions of dollars."
Within a couple of hours, however, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued a statement in which he said that proposal "is being misrepresented. It is not a 50-50 deal. It is, most likely, a 56 [percent] to 57 percent deal in year one and never gets to 50 percent."
Bettman was not impressed with any of the offers.
"None of the three variations even began to approach 50-50," he said, adding that the NHL offer made Tuesday not only is "fair and balanced," but also "is our best offer."
Fehr said that last point was something that came across during the talks.
"If you had been in that room, the vibe you would have gotten was, 'Unless you're willing to sign with very minor variations, don't bother,'" he said.
Whether the NHL will remain unwilling to budge isn't clear.
"[Thursday] was not a good day," Fehr said.
"It should have been, but it wasn't."
NOTES -- Penguins union representative Craig Adams also was among the 18 in Toronto. ... Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland made his debut with RIHK of Norway's top league. He had no points, three shots in a 3-0 loss against Lorenskog. ... The Penguins contingent skating at Southpointe was just five -- defensemen Matt Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy, and forwards Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz and Joe Vitale.
First Published October 19, 2012 4:00 AM