In an interview on The Hockey News Radio Show, NHLPA executive Mathieu Schneider gave his perspective on the collapse of NHL lockout talks and accused the league of attempting an end-run around union chief Donald Fehr.
“The conclusion I keep coming to is somehow the owners do not want to deal with Don,” Schneider said, “and that was obvious this past week, but I think it’s been the case throughout the negotiations. They come in with a take-it-or-leave it, walk away, they try to pressure the guys, they have other people, they have owners, GMs, coaches, calling guys, meeting them in the dressing room, telling them, ‘You better take this offer, it’s not going to get any better.’ ”
In the interview that took place on Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio early Friday afternoon, Schneider said that, despite the presence of new blood in the negotiating room – including Penguins majority owner Ron Burkle and Leafs owner Larry Tanenbaum – on Wednesday, the league’s position remained the same. Schneider also said the owners let the players know Fehr’s mere presence in the room was enough to derail talks.
“(NHL player and negotiating committee member) Ron Hainsey said to (league deputy commissioner) Bill Daly and (Calgary Flames owner) Murray Edwards, essentially, ‘We’re not deal-closers, we can’t finish this off. We’re very close, guys, let’s get in a room and work it out, but we’ve got to have Don and Steve and Mathieu and all of our staff in there, but we’re right here’,” Schneider said of Wednesday’s negotiating meetings, at which Fehr and league commissioner Gary Bettman were not present. “And (owners) essentially said, ‘If Don’s in the room, it’s a deal-breaker.’ And I don’t know what you do with that. I don’t know how you work with that. They cannot tell us who should represent us. It’s like you’re buying a house and the seller says, ‘I’m not going to sell you the house if you don’t hire this realtor’. That’s essentially what they’re saying.”
Schneider said the message from owners hadn’t changed at all.
“It was a new cast of characters, but it was the same old story,” Schneider said of the talks. “It was a take-it-or-leave it offer and they walked out of the room. We had a counter-proposal ready for them. The owners wouldn’t even come and listen to it. They sent (NHL lead counsel) Bob Batterman and (deputy commissioner) Bill Daly. We’ve heard back that they essentially said they were not going to accept our proposal in the morning before they even knew what we were going to say. It’s typical. It’s exactly what they’ve done throughout this negotiation, and I hate to say we expected it, but we expected it.”
Schneider believes it’s important to remember what has been done up to this point.
“The new owners wanted to come in and say, ‘You know, we are where we are, let’s get this done, let’s forget how we got here,’ ” Schneider said. “And I think it was one of the (PA) guys in the meeting actually said, “Well, let’s not forget how we got here, guys. We have over $1 billion of concessions already on the table.’ So if you want to bridge that gap, that’s one thing, but remember, we’ve already come an awful long way to get this deal done.”
According to Schneider, the players’ growing frustration is borne of an ownership group he accused of constantly shifting the negotiating goalposts from the time talks began in the summer.
“It’s just been a moving target,” he said. “If you think back a couple weeks ago when we had the secret meetings at (league legal consulting firm) Proskauer (Rose), we went in there and we said, ‘We’re $182 million apart, guys, we should be able to get in a room and figure this out tonight.’ They came back in with this ridiculous set of numbers and they said, ‘No, we’re actually over $900 million apart.’
“I cannot for the life of me understand why they want to be further apart each time. The CBA contract length is a perfect example. Their first offer was five years. We were at three and an option. We moved up to five years, they moved to six. In this last negotiation this past week, we moved up to six, they moved up to 10. There’s no rhyme or reason for it. The first time we heard 10 was about a week and a half ago when Murray Edwards threw it out at the end of one of the sessions. He said, ‘We’re willing to do a 10-year deal, guys, we think we should do a 10-year deal’. And Don (Fehr) said, ‘You think you should do a 10-year deal because it’s a great deal for you’. (Edwards) didn’t really have any response for that.”
Schneider added that, despite reports of unrest in the NHLPA camp, nothing could be further from the truth.
“(Players) are angry, but they also understand that we’ve done everything that we can, every step of the way and nothing’s going to change (owners’) mindset,” he said. “The one thing I will that I will tell you is if the players give in now, that’s going to guarantee another lockout when this deal is up.”