NEW YORK (AP) — NHL labor talks took a break Saturday — an old-fashioned lunch break.
Instead of returning to the negotiating table for a fifth straight day, representatives from the NHL and the players' association stayed in touch during the morning and then got together for an informal lunch meeting in the afternoon.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and union special counsel Steve Fehr made plans to talk either Saturday night or Sunday morning to set up the next round of negotiations.
Negotiations hit a rough spot Friday and talks were put on hold Saturday — the 56th day of the lockout that has delayed the start of the season and already forced it to be shortened. Talks ended Friday night a few hours into a bargaining session on the core economic differences that separate the sides and threaten the season completely.
Following those discussions, union executive director Donald Fehr held a conference call with the executive board and players on the negotiating committee. The players' association continued internal discussions Saturday before meeting with the league.
It became clear Friday night that the gap between the sides had grown wider. Whether negotiations took a step backward remains to be seen.
After three consecutive seemingly positive days of talks this week, discussions turned sour Friday. The union was under the impression the numbers floated by each side indicated they were nearer to an agreement with the league, but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman disagreed.
"Gary made a comment (Thursday) that there is still a lot of work to do. I think, given (Friday's) session, there is still a lot of work to do," Donald Fehr said. "We looked at some of the numbers on the various proposals and we thought we were much closer together on the structure of a deal than the suggestions were. They came back to us and said, 'No, we are very very far apart on the structure of the deal.'"
There were vocal disagreements at the end of the session, and the union is beginning to feel that the NHL isn't ready to make a deal now, even if the players were suddenly willing to accept the league's offer in full — which they are not.
"We talked back and forth a little bit, and at one point the question was asked: 'If the players would agree to everything that's in your financial proposal, what you're saying is you still won't make an agreement unless the players give up everything in all of the player-contracting rights in your proposal? The answer was, 'Yes, because that's what we want,'" Donald Fehr said. "One wonders if that's really the case. How do you get there from here?
"Given where we are, we're going to reconvene internally (Saturday) morning and we'll come to grips with where we are and try to figure out what we'll do next. I don't know what will happen next."
Bettman declined to reveal what was discussed or where the disagreements lie. He also wouldn't characterize the mood of the talks.
"I am not going into the details of what takes place in the room," he said. "I really apologize but I do not think it would be constructive to the process. I don't want to either raise or lower expectations. I won't be happy until we get to the end result and that means we're playing again."
The union fought to put out internal fires Friday after a memo to players summarizing Thursday's negotiations was leaked to the media. That led to suggestions that the players' association didn't fully convey the owners' most recent proposal to its membership accurately or completely.