NHL rejects players' latest offer, negotiations break off

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NHL rejects players' latest offer, negotiations break off

If you’re a fan of NHL hockey, Thursday’s regressive developments in the collective bargaining negotiations could mean you’re out of luck if you were hoping for a season.

If you’re a fan of the Three Ring Circus, just keep following along with these increasingly bizarre discussions.

In a span of minutes, and after an early evening meeting with the league, the NHLPA’s Donald Fehr took to the podium at the Westin Times Square to say he believed the players’ counter-offer to the league had moved the two sides “close” to an agreement. Soon after, he received a voicemail from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, saying that the NHL had rejected the union’s latest proposal and that the league would be taking certain aspects of its latest offer off of the table.

That includes $300 million in “make-whole” money that was to be used to honor current signed contracts, a key issue for the players.

Fehr re-took the podium and relayed that rejection to the attending media, adding, “It looks like this is not going to be resolved in the immediate future.”

Shortly after Fehr spoke, an agitated Gary Bettman spoke for more than 40 minutes. “I’m disappointed beyond belief that we are where we are tonight,” Bettman said.

The commissioner also seemed to suggest that time is getting short to save any semblance of having a season with integrity. In 1994-95, a 48-game season began on Jan. 20.

Among some other highlights (lowlights?) from the commissioner:

- The NHL’s increased offer of the make-whole money, from $211 to $300 million, brought a “shockingly silent” response from the union, and subsequently the owners were “beside themselves.” Some said, according to Bettman, “This process is over. Clearly the union doesn’t want to make a deal.”

- He was upset that Fehr moments earlier categorized the two sides as being close to a deal. He accused the union boss of  “spinning us all into an emotional frenzy.” He labeled it as “unfair to our fans, and unfair to this process.”

- The optimism for a season after Tuesday’s meeting between players and four new owners to the process “almost inexplicably disappeared Wednesday afternoon” after it seemed the two sides had made some progress.

After Bettman spoke, the league released statements from those four NHL owners that joined the talks earlier in the week. Pittsburgh’s Ron Burkle, Tampa Bay’s Jeff Vinik, Toronto’s Larry Tanenbaum and Winnipeg’s Mark Chipman met with players on Tuesday and Wednesday without Bettman or Fehr in the room (Daly and the NHLPA’s Steve Fehr were in attendance).

Burkle reportedly emerged from the talks as a voice of reason, and, along with Sidney Crosby, was being praised as a potential savior to the season.

But, Burkle's reaction to the breakdown on Thursday was discouraging.

In a statement, the Pens' owner said: “We made substantial movement on our end quickly, but unfortunately that was not met with the same level of movement from the other side. The players asked us to be patient and keep working with them. It’s not what they do and they wanted us to know they were committed. We understood and appreciated their situation. We came back with an aggressive commitment to pensions which we felt was well received. We needed a response on key items that were important to us, but we were optimistic that we were down to very few issues. I believe a deal was within reach.

“We were therefore surprised when the Fehrs made a unilateral and “non-negotiable” decision – which is their right, to end the player/owner process that has moved us farther in two days than we moved at any time in the past months.

“I want to thank the players involved for their hard work as we tried to reach a deal.

“I hope that going backwards does not prevent a deal.”

No further meetings are scheduled.

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

The Sharks dropped their sixth straight game Saturday in Nashville against the Predators. To make matters worse, center Logan Couture left the ice to an ugly scene after taking a puck straight to the mouth. 

Directly after the game, Couture was taken to a local Nashville hospital. On Sunday, his father Chet could not provide specific details but called what his son is going through "an ugly injury sadly." 

Couture was set up just outside the crease when a Brent Burns point shot late in the second period hit a stick before squarely smacking into the 27-year-old’s mouth. Replays showed Couture appeared to lose at least one tooth, and he quickly skated to the dressing room under his own power with just 14 seconds before the intermission.

"You can't replace him, so it would be really tough,” Patrick Marleau said after Saturday's loss. “But if that is the case, then guys are going to have to pull up the slack. Definitely we hope he's back sooner.”

Couture flew back with the team Sunday morning, but Insider Kevin Kurz is hearing the injury is certainly a bad one. 

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

NASHVILLE – The Sharks are returning to San Jose on Sunday in a crisis. Nothing good came from Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Nashville, their sixth straight in regulation. Let’s get to the painful three takeaways…

1 – No answers

Neither Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns nor Patrick Marleau – the three players made available to the media after Saturday’s game – offered any kind of in-depth analysis of what’s going wrong. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone really knows. It’s hard to believe that this is the same club that had lost just two games in regulation in its previous 14 before the losing streak began.

“If you’re putting a consistent effort in, battling, competing – it’s tough to lose six in a row,” Pavelski said. “You look at six in a row, and it just seems daunting. Like, how do you get there? So, I think we’ve just got to take a deep breath, really kind of refocus.”

Believe it or not, coach Pete DeBoer thought Saturday’s loss was “a step in the right direction” when asked why Friday night’s 6-1 beat down in Dallas wasn’t enough of a wake-up call. How often do you hear that after a five-goal defeat?

“I liked our game tonight better than I liked [Friday’s game] regardless of the score,” DeBoer said. “I don’t just look at the score. If you want to just judge it on the score than you might not say it’s a wake-up call, but I thought we were much more competitive tonight. 

“It was a step in the right direction. Every team goes through tough parts of the season, and this is ours. We’ve got a lot of character in the room. We’ll get through it.”

2 – Couture injury would spell doom, as Hertl still MIA

Let’s face it – if Logan Couture is out for any extended period of time, this team is DOA once the playoffs begin. Couture has been the Sharks’ best player since the All-Star break, and they don’t have anyone on the current roster or in the system that could replace him. As of Sunday morning, there was still no word as to the severity of his injury after taking a puck to the mouth and going to a local Nashville hospital.

If Couture were to miss time, Tomas Hertl would likely become the team’s second line center. Lately, though, Hertl doesn’t even resemble an effective third line center. He was victimized on Nashville’s first goal, which was similar to one of the Wild goals on Tuesday, when he was just too slow and not strong enough on his skates in getting outworked for a loose puck. He is scoreless in his last 12 games.

3 – Haley shows some emotion that others lack

It’s understandable that Micheal Haley didn’t like getting hit from behind by Calle Jarnkrok in the third period. But, you can’t just make a beeline for a guy and punch him in the face. Haley will almost certainly get suspended for the play.

At least, though, Haley showed a little bit of emotion in the game, including his first period fight with Cody McLeod. Perhaps guys like Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker could take a lesson from the fiery Haley. Those three, in particular, have been virtually useless during this six-game stretch. 

If I’m DeBoer, I’d get on the phone with Doug Wilson and Roy Sommer and ask for a few guys from the Barracuda so I could – depending on the team’s health situation – scratch all three of them for Tuesday against the Rangers, or at least remove Boedker and Donskoi and put Hertl back on the wing. Drastic times call for drastic measures, do they not?