- Craig Custance
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They found a television at the arena to watch the news conferences that alerted the hockey world that things had gone horribly sideways. Negotiations were over. Offers were off the table. The optimism that had grown during the week was completely wiped out.
"It kind of made me sick to my stomach. It really did," Howard said. "This emotional roller coaster of getting excited, getting amped up -- it feels like the wind getting knocked out of you."
Cleary was getting text message updates from Oilers forward Shawn Horcoff, one of the group of players in New York trying to finalize a deal. Even those updates didn't prepare him for the unraveling that played out on the television screen in front of him.
"I was blown away. Everybody was, trust me," Cleary said. "The fans must be going insane. If you're a fan watching this unfold for the last 72 hours -- especially yesterday. What's going on here? Last night, the drama that unfolded was soap opera-ish."
A day to cool off isn't enough. The emotions still bubbled up with Cleary, who stopped several times during a chat following a Friday practice to gather his thoughts.
"I don't want to get going here," he said.
For Cleary and some of his teammates, it's still hard to figure out where it went wrong, and why there aren't negotiations still happening right now in New York to try and save what's left of a season.
Instead, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear that the offer the movement made this week toward the players in the make-whole provision and other key elements is off the table. The logical next step is more canceled games.
With the league pulling its offer, how concerned are the players that all of the progress from this week is wiped out?
"That's a good question," Howard said. "I don't really know how to answer that for you. Hopefully it's just one more of Gary's ploys to see how we are as a union, to see if we're going to crack."
There's been speculation that some players wanted a chance to vote on the NHL's offer made this week, that some players are unhappy with the decision to instead wait and try to sweeten the deal. Nobody denied that it's at least a possibility. The NHLPA has more than 700 members, so even if a large majority are on board, that still leaves a group of unhappy players eager to play now.
"Let's be honest here. We all want to play," Howard said. "But we've got to do it for the right reasons."
If the events in New York were an attempt to insert a wedge in the union, every player who stopped to chat with the media following this practice in suburban Detroit -- including forward Cleary, defensemen Niklas Kronwall and Ian White, and goalie Howard -- said it didn't work. All reiterated their overwhelming support of NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr.
"We need to step back here a few days, take the weekend and hope cooler heads prevail," Cleary said. "This is too close to burn a season."