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.

Facial fractures for Couture; Thornton undergoes surgery

Facial fractures for Couture; Thornton undergoes surgery

SAN JOSE – Just in case there was any question as to the grisly nature of Logan Couture’s mouth injury, the Sharks forward shared a picture on his personal Instagram account on Monday.

If you haven’t seen it yet, proceed with caution.

The photo was taken the night of his injury on March 25 in Nashville, showing several top teeth missing in a mouth that can accurately be described as a bloody mess, after he was hit with a defected puck while standing in front of the net in a game against the Predators.

Couture revealed on Tuesday in a conference call that there was more to his injury that just damaged teeth. He also has some facial fractures, including one above his upper lip that extends to his nasal area, and another that is under the bottom row of his teeth.

The one that’s higher in his face is still painful. 

“Still struggle to eat and sleep. … It’s not a comfortable state to be in,” said Couture, who missed the final seven games of the regular season before returning for the six-game first round series loss to Edmonton.

As for the next step, Couture has yet to sit down with his dentist, although further work is on the horizon.

“There’s going to be some implants to get the teeth fixed,” he said. “Hopefully get it done in the next few weeks, and then I’ll head back to Canada.”

Couture doesn’t yet know how many teeth need to be replaced.

“All depends on how the teeth respond,” he said.

* * *

Joe Thornton had successful surgery on his left knee on Monday afternoon, NBC Sports California has learned, and according to a team statement released later on Tuesday he is expected to "make a complete recovery and be ready for the start of the 2017-18 season." 

According to a source, the damage to Thornton’s MCL was more significant than his ACL. The team declined to give any details about the surgery in its statement, including who performed it and where it was done. 

Thornton played four playoff games against Edmonton despite damaged knee ligaments, head coach Pete DeBoer revealed on Monday, when he said Thornton was dealing with a “torn MCL and ACL” after getting hurt in Vancouver on April 2.

Power play at the center of Sharks' downfall in 2016-17

Power play at the center of Sharks' downfall in 2016-17

SAN JOSE – There was an NHL coaching casualty on Monday on a team that flamed out in the first round.

No, it wasn’t in San Jose. It was in Chicago, as the Blackhawks fired assistant coach Mike Kitchen, who was in charge of their penalty kill. Chicago, swept by Nashville despite finishing atop the Western Conference, finished 24th on the PK in the regular season.

When it comes to the Sharks’ coaching staff, there’s no doubt that head coach Pete DeBoer will return, but it’s fair to wonder if assistant coach Steve Spott is feeling a little heat right now. The Sharks’ power play, a primary focus of Spott’s, finished just 25th in the NHL this season (16.7 percent) after it was third in the league in 2015-16 (22.5 percent).

When asked if the full Sharks’ coaching staff would return next season, general manager Doug Wilson didn’t offer anything definitive.

“I haven’t sat down with them yet. I think they did an outstanding job,” Wilson said. “You go through the last 12 months with a compressed schedule, very few practices, integrating players. I’m very pleased with their performance.

“I think there are things that they want to do better. We all have to take a look back and be honest, and say since we’re not playing right now, what can we do better? I think that transparency and honesty is a really good part of this group. We’ll do that in the next week.”

And what was Wilson’s perspective of the power play?

“It’s got to be better. [The coaches] will tell you. …  It’s not [always] the percentage or the number, it’s when you score goals. We certainly have the talent, and historically we’ve done very well,” Wilson said.

There was no part of the Sharks’ game during the regular season and in the playoffs that was more baffling and frustrating than its performance with a man advantage. Last season’s success seemed to bleed into October as the Sharks were running at a 24.1 percent rate through the first month of the 2016-17 season, but after November 1 and through the end of the season, the power play was a miserable 15.7 percent (34-for-217).

In the playoffs the Sharks were a more respectable 5-for-28, but even DeBoer called that misleading as four of those came in the 7-0 blowout in Game 4. They were 1-for-18 the rest of the series.

DeBoer, as the head coach, took responsibility for that part of the Sharks’ game when asked how much the miserable power play grinded on Spott.

“It grinds on all of us,” he said. “This isn’t about Steve. The power play is not about Steve. The power play is about our whole staff. We sit on all those situations as a group, and I’m the ultimate guy responsible for all those things. 

“I think it ground on all of us. It didn’t give us momentum, it didn’t create momentum even when it wasn’t scoring. That’s what you want your power play to do, is at least give you some momentum that you’re feeling good coming out of it. We didn’t get that, so that’s something that’s right at the top of our list.”

One baffling aspect of the power play is that the coaching staff hardly ever tried anything different with its units unless it was forced into it due to injury. Patrick Marleau was bumped from the top unit for a brief stretch in the middle of the season, but it didn’t last very long.

The second unit generated just seven goals in the 82-game season, and none after Feb. 2 other than rookie Danny O’Regan’s score in the final game when several Sharks regulars were resting.

One argument regarding the top unit is that it simply became too predictable. Joe Thornton could be counted on to pass, Brent Burns was going to shoot any chance he got, and Joe Pavelski would be hovering somewhere around the slot looking for a deflection.

Pavelski said: “There were times where maybe we rushed it, forced a few things. Definitely all year it could have been a little better, a little more of our identity and what it has been in the past. So, that’s on us as players.”

DeBoer said: “I think we got a little stagnant. I don’t think we had as much motion as we usually have and as much movement, and that comes with some confidence. You lose confidence, you tend to stand still. That’s something that we’ve got to get back.”