- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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Following a disheartening negotiating session on Thursday, when the NHL roundly dismissed all three of the union’s proposals in Toronto, players walked away with a grim outlook on CBA talks and a bitter aftertaste.
In rejecting the union’s array of offers within a matter of minutes, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman unintentionally galvanized the players, who felt offended and insulted by his actions and frustrated by the direction of discussions.
Now, it looks like Bettman made another serious miscalculation.
Bettman and the league released a memo last week, unbeknownst to the NHLPA, that said general managers across the league were permitted to talk to players during a specific 48-hour window. But instead of easing the tension of what is sure to be awkward communication between a team’s executive and his players, the league’s actions may have a deleterious effect.
Considering the lack of trust between the two sides at this point of negotiations -- the several sessions required to clarify hockey-related revenue are a prime example -- it’s only fair to wonder if this latest development will exacerbate the tensions between the two sides.
And with the clock winding down on this Thursday's league-imposed deadline to save a full 82-game season, could this throw the proverbial wrench in discussions?
“I can’t control that,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPNNewYork.com via email. “It is what it is. From our perspective, it’s a complete non-issue.”
But from the players' side, it may not be. Sure, some will think it’s just plain comical, others completely unnecessary, but there is likely to be a contingent that believes this only increases the enmity between the two sides. Although the memo strictly prohibits GMs from negotiating, coercing, undermining the NHLPA or soliciting feedback on the bargaining process, some will certainly view the league's effort as an attempt at an end-around past union leadership.
Considering where negotiations stand -- no meetings have been scheduled between the league and union since the two sides swapped proposals last week -- that’s not good news.
At the end of the memo -- which has already been scorned and scrutinized, as was the NHL’s recently publicized focus group campaign -- the league included a sample question-and-answer portion to suggest neutral ways for GMs to field inquiries.
Now, the NHL might need to devise its own set of answers for how it can respond to what appears to be a significant misstep.
8dScott Burnside and Craig Custance