NHL rejects players' latest offer, negotiations break off

bettman_gary_nhl.jpg

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.

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

The Sharks have issued qualifying offers to restricted free agent forwards Chris Tierney, Marcus Sorensen and Barclay Goodrow, while cutting ties with three players in the system.

Tierney, 22, posted 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in 80 games last season, serving primarily as the fourth line center. He has 64 points (24g, 40a) in 202 career games over three NHL seasons, all with the Sharks.

Sorensen posted one goal and three assists in 19 games with the Sharks last season, his first in the NHL. The 25-year-old played in all six playoff games against Edmonton, scoring one goal and one assist.

Goodrow, 24, skated in three games for the Sharks last season with one assist. He has 16 points (4g, 12a) in 77 games over three seasons with the Sharks, although has played in just 17 NHL games since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Forward Nikita Jevpalovs, defenseman Patrick McNally and goalie Mantas Armalis - also known for his career as a male model - were left unqualified and are now unrestricted free agents.

Earlier in the offseason, the Sharks signed pending restricted free agents Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson. Donskoi received a two-year deal at a salary cap hit of $1.9 million, while Karlsson was signed to a three-year deal at $2 million annually.

Thornton, Marleau now permitted to speak with other teams

Thornton, Marleau now permitted to speak with other teams

Their futures with the Sharks more uncertain than ever, pending unrestricted free agents Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are now free to take calls from other teams to gauge their potential interest.

Nothing can be signed with a new team before July 1, and there is a ban on discussing terms of any potential deal. Teams have already reached out to Marleau, per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, while Thornton is also reportedly receiving interest around the league.

While they could still return to the Sharks, it’s new territory for both, as neither Thornton nor Marleau has ever tested the unrestricted free agent waters. Most recently, they agreed to three-year contract extensions with the Sharks on the same day – Jan. 24, 2014 – in what was the final year of their current deals.

Whether they return to the Sharks could depend on the length of the deal. If other teams are willing to offer multiple-year deals to Thornton and Marleau, it makes their return to the Sharks less likely – particularly in Marleau’s case. Earlier in the offseason, NBC Sports California confirmed that Thornton was seeking a three-year deal, while Marleau preferred a deal of at least three years.

General manager Doug Wilson’s top priority this offseason is to re-sign goalie Martin Jones and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long term extensions. Those contracts would likely cost the team a combined $12-14 million, and would begin in the 2018-19 season.

There is an added risk to any team that signs a player over the age of 35, as it would be on the hook for the entire salary cap hit regardless of whether that player is active (unless that player is on long-term injured reserve). 

Thornton turns 38 on Sunday, while Marleau turns 38 on Sep. 15.