- A brief glimmer of hope of a deal was quickly dashed in hockey league-union exchange
- Ultimately, both sides agreed that there is no imminent deal in nearly 2-month-old lockout
- The NHL commissioner calls the optimism unwarranted and unfair to fans
Like watching a goal that slams the back of the net that is later called off, National Hockey League fans experienced elation followed quickly by sharp disappointment -- and, as has been the case nearly two months, none of this action happened on the ice.
NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr voiced rare optimism Thursday that the the league's lockout of its players may finally end after what he described as significant progress in talks with owner representatives.
"We believe that, with the exception of the transition issues that have not been discussed, that we have a complete agreement on dollars," Fehr said.
But a few minutes later, he returned to the podium at the Westin Hotel in New York's Times Square with grimmer news.
An official from the league, Fehr said, had left a voice mail indicating the "moves the players made were not acceptable" and that there was no imminent agreement and no further talks were planned.
A short time later, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman gave a drastically different account. Shooting down Fehr's claim that the players had moved the most on issues such as contracts, pensions, the length of the collective bargaining agreement and more, he said it was the owners who had "made substantial movement."
After all the give and take, Bettman said, the two sides weren't on the verge of a deal. In fact, the NHL was walking back its offer, with the commissioner saying: "The things that we added to the table this week are off the table."
"Spinning us all into an emotional frenzy that maybe (we are) close ... is terribly unfair to our fans and it's unfair to this process," said Bettman, accusing Fehr and the player's union of injecting false hope into the process.
The league and the players association have not been able to reach a collective bargaining agreement, prompting a lockout that threatens to wipe out an entire NHL season for the second time in eight years.
The season did not begin as scheduled on October 11, and the league has canceled groups of games as the calendar progressed with no deal. Last month, the league said that the all-star game and the regular season through December 14 had been called off.