NEW YORK (AP) — With only two days left to avoid another damaging NHL lockout, players and owners huddled in separate circles to discuss what now seems inevitable.
One day after the NHL and the players' association swapped proposals each hoped would result in a new collective bargaining agreement, the sides held internal meetings and gave no indication that a deal was anywhere close.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stuck to his vow that players will be locked out come Saturday at midnight EDT if a new CBA isn't hammered out before then. In case anyone doubted his resolve, Bettman said he received unanimous support from the board of governors on Thursday to shut down the sport for the second time in eight years.
"We have been clear that the collective bargaining agreement, upon its expiration, needs to have a successful agreement for us to move forward," Bettman said Thursday. "The league is not in a position, not willing to move forward with another season under the status quo."
The players turned out in force just a few blocks away at another midtown Manhattan hotel. Solidarity was evident, but optimism wasn't. As of Thursday night, the sides hadn't been in contact since talks broke off on Wednesday, and no new negotiations were scheduled.
The last labor stoppage caused the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season, a lockout that ended only when players accepted a salary cap and a 24 percent rollback of salaries.
"Right now it's not looking great," said Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who was just 17 when the last lockout ended, "but things can change pretty quickly."
Following lockouts last year by basketball and football owners, Bettman says hockey management is determined to come away with economic gains, even if it forces the NHL's fourth work stoppage since 1992.
"Two other leagues — the NBA and the NFL — their players have recognized that in these economic times there is a need to retrench," Bettman said after a two-hour owners' meeting.
Training camps are scheduled to open Sept. 21 and the season is slated to start Oct. 11. Damage from a lockout will occur almost immediately, and there is no telling how jilted fans and sponsors will react to another shutdown.
"One of the questions that needs to be asked is, if indeed they lock out, if indeed they do do that, (whether) that is reasonably calculated to make a deal more likely or less likely?" union head Donald Fehr said. "I think you can figure out the answer."
Management's latest offer, made Wednesday in response to a players' proposal, will be in effect until Saturday. Once the lockout begins, Bettman says the economic damage would cause owners to offer players a less beneficial deal.
Players currently receive 57 percent of hockey-related revenue, and the owners want to bring that number down as far as perhaps 47 percent — which is an increase from their original offer of 43 percent. The union offered a deal based on actual dollars, seeking a guarantee of the $1.8 billion players received last season.
"The fact is, we believe that 57 percent of HRR is too much," Bettman said. "Even a brief lockout will cost more in terms of lost salary and wages than what we're proposing to do to make a deal that we think we need to make."
After the current contract was agreed to in July 2005, then union head Bob Goodenow resigned two weeks later. After stints by Ted Saskin and Paul Kelly, the union in 2010 turned to Fehr, who led baseball players through three work stoppages in the 1980s and '90s.
Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said Fehr is doing a far better job communicating with members than leadership did in the last lockout. Miller believes that he and his fellow players are more in the loop about what is going on than the 30 league owners, who are prohibited by NHL bylaws from publicly commenting about the negotiation process.
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