VANCOUVER - Manny Malhotra has had a front-row seat for the emotional roller-coaster that the NHL labour talks have become, but will now watch the proceedings from afar.
"I'm done," Malhotra said Monday.
Not done because he's angry or frustrated by the stalemate -- and he most certainly is -- but because his wife Joann is expecting a baby next month and he wants to wait out the rest of her pregnancy at their Vancouver home.
Malhotra reckons he has made 10 cross-continent trips to participate in CBA talks or NHLPA meetings. He's done more travelling than he would have had the season begun as scheduled. He calls the experience both invaluable and frustrating.
There have been lots of highs and lows, none more so than last week in New York City.
"I think you run the whole gamut of emotions throughout these talks," he said after skating with a few of his Canuck teammates at UBC. "Right from the get-go Don (Fehr) mentioned the biggest thing throughout this process would be patience and that has definitely been tested over the past few months and especially last week.
"You get frustrated, you get angry, you get bitter, there are obviously highs when you feel like we're really close to a deal and the lows of having those negotiations break off. You run through everything."
It has been Malhotra's job during much of these negotiations to keep his Canuck teammates informed of where things stand. He was particularly busy doing just that in the wake of Thursday's high drama in New York, when for a short time optimism reigned before NHL commissioner Gary Bettman appeared to paint a much more bleak picture.
"Even during those meetings we'll break and I'll text guys," Malhotra said. "Today the way social media is everything breaks so quickly and you'd hate to have guys making decisions off of assumptions and rumours and tweets, so I do my best to make sure guys are informed as to what is really going on in those rooms as opposed to rumour and hearsay."
Malhotra thinks the NHL's reaction late last week to what the union had viewed as real progress has further galvanized the players. He believes the players are as united as they were when the NHL pitched its first proposal back in the late summer, a lowball offer calling for a reduction in player revenue to 43 per cent from the existing 57.
"As far as we have come with that last proposal and to have them reject it outright and call everything off, I think that pissed a lot of guys off again similar to the first deal they offered," Malhotra said of last week's events. "It made us that much more unified and strong."
Malhotra was in the room with a group of players and owners last week when things turned sour. The owners had balked at the prospect of NHLPA head Donald Fehr entering the room.
"I think it is another one of their tactics to try and discredit Don, to say he is the one standing in the way of a deal," Malhotra said. "I can't say enough about how strongly we feel about his leadership and what he has done for this organization so far. He's the professional, he has been doing this for years and to think that we'd be dotting the I's and crossing the T's without him in the room is just absurd."
No one was surprised when the NHL announced Monday that it was cancelling another two week's worth of games though Dec. 30. But that decision served to reinforce the fact that crunch time is fast approaching if even a 48-game season can be salvaged.
"We feel like there's a contract to be had," Canuck defenceman Kevin Bieksa said Monday. "We feel like we are close in the individual components of the CBA. If you ask them they think we're a little further apart. Maybe we are just a little more optimistic or maybe we just want to play hockey a little bit more than they do, but it seems like there are certain things they won't come to us on.
"We've said it before, we have been making a lot of concessions and we'll continue to make concessions to get this game back on the ice. We need a willing partner who is going to negotiate in good faith, though."
Malhotra likes to think the two sides are close enough to reach a settlement, but both parties seem to have dug in their heels on key contracting issues like CBA length and maximum contract lengths.
"I don't know what to think at this point," Malhotra said. "I'll take a quote from Don. He's not in the predictions and guessing business and nor am I. It's been a very trying time trying to understand the rhyme and reason for a lot of their decisions and to try and take a guess on what they are thinking now and when things could get started would just be a waste of time really."
Bieska is holding out hope for a pre-Christmas settlement that could allow for a New Year's Eve start to the season. It is interesting to note that the NHL did not cancel the 13 games it has scheduled for Dec. 31. One of those games has the Canucks playing host to the St. Louis Blues.
"It would be nice to get something done before Christmas, give yourself a little bit of a training camp and start fresh in the new year," Bieksa said. "That would be ideal, I think."
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