Donald Fehr, the executive director of the players union, had just finished a news conference Thursday in which he described the union’s latest offer to end the NHL lockout, and how it put the two sides close to an agreement. Players were expressing guarded optimism to reporters about returning to the ice.
That was when Fehr’s brother Steve, the union’s special counsel, checked his voice mail. It was NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, rejecting the union’s proposal.
“We were advised in a voice mail message that the moves the players made were not acceptable," Donald Fehr said a few minutes later after reconvening the news conference, “and that something, everything — that’s not clear — was off the table."
It was the latest twist in what Commissioner Gary Bettman later described as the “emotional roller coaster" of the 82-day lockout, and a sour end to a week that started with optimism on both sides that a settlement was within reach. Now the stalemate and rancor that have marked these talks have returned, stronger than ever.
Bettman and Daly later said there would be no further talks on Thursday or today so the two sides could “take a breath," but the language they used in their news conference later Thursday was charged with bitter disappointment.
“This is not the first time he described things as close when they weren’t," Bettman said of Fehr. “I don’t know why he did that. I find it almost incomprehensible that he did that."
Bettman added that the optimism that prevailed on Tuesday and Wednesday “almost inexplicably disappeared" Thursday.