But the union argued that the NHL is using this suit "to force the players to remain in a union. Not only is it virtually unheard of for an employer to insist on the unionization of its employees, it is also directly contradicted by the rights guaranteed to employees under ... the National Labor Relations Act."
The court scheduled a status conference for the sides on Monday morning.
That still gives them time to get back to the table to try to reach a deal. There won't be one, however, if they don't resolve the differences regarding the players' pension.
Bettman called the pension plan a "very complicated issue."
"The number of variables and the number of issues that have to be addressed by people who carry the title actuary or pension lawyer are pretty numerous and it's pretty easy to get off track," Bettman said. "That is something we understand is important to the players."
The union's proposal Wednesday makes four offers between the sides since the NHL restarted negotiations Thursday with a proposal. The league presented the players with a counteroffer Tuesday night in response to one the union made Monday.
Fehr believed an agreement on a players-funded pension had been reached before talks blew up in early December. That apparently wasn't the case, or the NHL has changed its offer regarding the pension in exchange for agreeing to other things the union wanted.
The salary-cap number for the second year of the deal — the 2013-14 season — hasn't been established, and it is another point of contention. The league is pushing for a $60 million cap, while the union wants it to be $65 million.
In return for the higher cap number players would be willing to forgo a cap on escrow.
"We talk about lots of things and we even had some philosophical discussions about why particular issues were important to each of us," Bettman said. "That is part of the process."
The NHL proposed in its first offer Thursday that pension contributions come out of the players' share of revenues, and $50 million of the league's make-whole payment of $300 million will be allocated and set aside to fund potential underfunding liabilities of the plan at the end of the collective bargaining agreement.
Last month, the NHL agreed to raise its make-whole offer of deferred payments from $211 million to $300 million as part of a proposed package that required the union to agree on three nonnegotiable points. Instead, the union accepted the raise in funds, but then made counterproposals on the issues the league stated had no wiggle room.
"As you might expect, the differences between us relate to the core economic issues which don't involve the share," Fehr said of hockey-related revenue, which likely will be split 50-50.
The NHL is the only North American professional sports league to cancel a season because of a labor dispute, losing the 2004-05 campaign to a lockout. A 48-game season was played in 1995 after a lockout stretched into January.