Hockey fans trying to maintain even trace amounts of optimism hoped Tuesday would bring news of scheduled talks and new proposals between the NHL and NHLPA this week as they attempt to save an 82-game schedule.
Instead Tuesday brought news of more behind the scenes scheming on the league's part that has seemingly nothing to do with meaningful negotiations.
It was reported today that the league gave its owners and general managers permission to speak with players about the NHLPA's (at the time) soon-to-be-rejected trio of offers last week between Wednesday and Friday. It's an odd easement of the league's strict "no-contact" rule between teams and players during the lockout, and has many wondering what the intent was.
The NHLPA was not advised of the change in policy in advance, and many view it as an attempt to "get between" the players and union leadership (Fehr).
The desired effect is unknown. The perception in the media is that the result only angers the NHLPA further.
Says Michael Grange at Sportsnet this afternoon...
By now the league was probably hoping that the players would be taking a hard look at their options and wondering how much salary is worth blowing compared with actually getting a deal done.
But rather than ply the players' determination with a bit of solvent, the owners may have fortified it.
"You can't piss in their face and tell them it's raining," was how one veteran player agent described the mood of his clients. [Sportsnet]
Katie Strang had similar thoughts on the development, asking if this is another misstep by the league that only galvanizes players against it.
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 two sides. [ESPN.com]
Tension isn't what anyone wants to hear about right now, with Thursday's supposed "deadline" practically here already.
James Mirtle with the Globe and Mail tries to find a positive way to look at the latest news, even in the absence of scheduled talks.
Such an end-around isn't unusual - after all, it happened during the last lockout - but it usually comes as part of an endgame strategy.
Are we that far along already? Maybe.
But this time around it is as much to do with (a) testing the players' resolve and (b) frustration with NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr's dour consistency as anything.
It's also a sign the league is getting a little anxious - and that a compromise that can end this lockout could actually not be as far away as the rhetoric suggests. [Globe and Mail]
All along we've been told that things will be bad. Very bad. Until all of a sudden they aren't any more. That could happen this week as Mirtle suggests but there are no indications to think that or even hope for it late Tuesday afternoon.
Players continue to jump ship to Europe (Patrick Kane today) and the others occupy themselves with charity games or camps (such as the one in Dallas this week, which might be preparation for other endeavors).
It doesn't look good no matter how you view it. A resolution would require multiple back and forth bargaining sessions, not to mention a more moderate outlook on the central conflicts by members of both sides, and it appears there will be no meeting Wednesday. A conference call internal to the NHLPA is the only news of CBA-related work being done today.
Still, both sides claim they're willing to negotiate right now.
"We made clear at our meeting on Thursday that if the terms of the 'make whole' is something they wanted us to negotiate over or address, we're more than happy to do it," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com today.
"We are willing to meet and discuss that and anything else without preconditions and have been since last week," Fehr similarly told ESPN.
So what are they waiting for?
We may be pondering that one until next fall at the rate things are going.