Gary Bettman sparks NHL lockout fears

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (LYLE ASPINALL/QMI Agency file photo)

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (LYLE ASPINALL/QMI Agency file photo)

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:04 AM ET

Another lockout could be looming.

Although he didn't say the dreaded word, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman set a firm deadline for a new deal with the players' union after Thursday's negotiating session in New York City, saying there would be a stoppage if the two sides can't hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement by the time the existing pact expires on Sept. 15.

"Time is getting short and the owners are not prepared to operate under this collective bargaining agreement for another season, so we need to get to making a deal and doing it soon," Bettman told reporters after the latest sitdown with representatives of the NHLPA.

"We believe there is ample time for the parties to get together and make a deal, and that's what we're going to be working towards.

"This isn't news," Bettman added. "The union has been told this repeatedly for the last nine to 12 months."

It might not be news to the players' association, but it certainly isn't what hockey fans across North America want to hear.

The 2004-05 NHL campaign was lost due to a lockout, marking the first time one of North America's so-called 'big-four' professional sports leagues had scrapped an entire season due to a labour dispute.

They finally agreed to a new deal in mid-July, with the final paperwork ratified by the players and approved by the owners after 310 days of labour strife.

As of Friday morning, they have 37 days to ensure it doesn't happen again.

After Thursday's meetings in the Big Apple, Bettman referred to a "wide gap to bridge on a whole host of issues," while NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr agreed there is a "meaningful gulf" between the two sides.

Asked during a brief media scrum about Bettman's remarks, Fehr seemed to hint the players would not consider a strike action, forcing the NHL to make a move.

"Under the law, if an agreement expires, that may give someone the legal ability to go on strike or impose a lockout," he said.

"There is no requirement to do so, and if nobody does anything, you continue to work under the old conditions until they do things. If there is a lockout, somebody has to choose to do that."

The two sides are currently dealing with a long list of issues, including revenue-sharing between teams and the chunk of hockey-related revenues allocated to the men on the ice.

The NHLPA posted a video online after briefings with European-based players in Barcelona earlier this week, with Flames forward Mikael Backlund expressing optimism a resolution can be reached and the season can be saved.

"We want to get a deal here," Backlund said "Everybody wants to play hockey, play the sport they love, and get the season going."

wes.gilbertson@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson


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