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Optimism turns to despair as NHL talks break off

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 7, 2012 at 3:10 am •  Published: December 7, 2012

Bettman added that the six owners involved with the negotiations were taken aback by the players' reaction to what the NHL felt was a major concession. As soon as the players wanted to negotiate the corresponding demands, the NHL felt it had nothing left to talk about.

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

Fehr vehemently disputed that assessment and stuck to his opinion that the sides really aren't far apart, saying they are "clearly very close if not on top of one another."

The sides won't meet again before Saturday at the earliest. While Bettman insisted that a drop-dead date for a deal that would preserve a season with "integrity" hasn't been established — even internally — clearly there isn't a lot of time to work out an agreement.

"I'm surprised. We feel like we moved in their direction," Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby said.

The 2004-05 season was lost before the players' association accepted a deal that included a salary cap for the first time. While no major philosophical issues such as that exist now, the sides don't appear ready to come to an agreement.

"It looks like this is not going to be resolved in the immediate future," Fehr said.

A 48-game season was played in 1995 after a lockout stretched into January. Bettman said he wouldn't have a season shorter than that.

Union special counsel Steve Fehr was stunned by the NHL's quick rejection of the players' offer. He missed Daly's call that came during Donald Fehr's initial news conference.

"Not only is it unusual, I would be hard-pressed to think of anything comparable in my experience," he said of the instant rejection.

Talks resumed Tuesday night with owners and players in the room, and Bettman and Donald Fehr on the outside. It sparked what seemed to be the most optimistic developments in the lockout. But the tenor began to change Wednesday, and the discourse erupted Thursday.

"The sense of optimism almost inexplicably disappeared Wednesday afternoon after such a good day Tuesday," Bettman said.

When the players suggested Wednesday night that they wanted Donald Fehr to rejoin the negotiations Thursday, the NHL informed them that his inclusion could be a deal-breaker.

"We thought we were getting close. There was definitely movement toward each other," Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey said. "As confident as some of us players are in the issues, we cannot close deals. I'd love to think I could, we cannot."

Donald and Steve Fehr were in Thursday's session, as were Daly and lead league counsel Bob Batterman.

Steve Fehr and a number of players stood in the back of the room with arms folded as Bettman and Daly presented the league's position Thursday.

There were already signs the process was breaking down earlier when the union requested that federal mediators rejoin the discussions. Mediators previously were unsuccessful in creating a breakthrough after two days of discussions last week.

"What we got today, quite frankly and disappointingly, missed the mark," Daly said. "For the union to suggest somehow we are close, is cherry picking and it's unfortunate."

The owners who joined the process this week expressed their disappointment, too.

"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," Winnipeg Jets chairman Mark Chipman said in a statement released by the NHL. "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."

The sides are trying to avoid another lost season. The NHL became the first North American professional sports league to cancel a full year because of a labor dispute back in 2005. The deal reached then was in place until this September, and the lockout was enacted when it expired.

"While trust was built and progress was made along the way, unfortunately, our proposal was rejected by the union's leadership," Toronto Maple Leafs minority owner Larry Tanenbaum said in a statement. "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."

All games through Dec. 14, along with the New Year's Day Winter Classic and the All-Star game, have been wiped off the schedule.