Bettman tells NHLPA to take the deal or leave it

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (VERONICA HENRI/QMI Agency file photo)

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (VERONICA HENRI/QMI Agency file photo)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:03 PM ET

NEW YORK - Take it or leave it.

After dismissing the offer the NHLPA tabled Wednesday during a meeting at the league offices on Sixth Avenue, an aggressive NHL commissioner Gary Bettman tabled a new collective bargaining agreement and gave the players until 11:59 p.m. Saturday to get a deal done.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr showed no willingness to accept the offer late Wednesday but maintained he is still willing to negotiate with Bettman, who is threatening that talks will be back to square one when the lockout officially begins.

"The proposal (the NHLPA made) was really not much different, other than a couple of things around the edges, than the last proposal they had made and which we had indicated was clearly not acceptable," said Bettman. "We decided in the hopes of moving these negotiations along that we would make yet another proposal. It had meaningful movement and it was an attempt to engage the union, finally, in trying to make a deal.

"We made clear this proposal was intended to lead to a deal before the weekend and, if in fact a deal was not achievable, what we proposed would be off the table. We were quite clear on that."

Bettman will re-affirm his support for a lockout with the NHL's board of governors Thursday during a meeting.

The two sides haven't been able to agree on how to split the pot -- the NHL had $3.3 billion in revenues last season. The players received 57% of the revenues in the current CBA and the owners latest proposal asked the NHLPA to take a 46% share.

After sitting down with Calgary owner Murray Edwards and Boston's Jeremy Jacobs, Bettman tabled a six-year deal that wouldn't change the definition of hockey-related revenues and gave an average of a 47% cut to the players.

"We're doing this (offer) strictly on percentages," said Bettman. "It has more than 46% this time."

Fehr, preparing to sit down with more than 275 players in New York to update them on where the talks stand with the clock ticking and upset details of the offer leaked, said the NHL wants players to take 10% pay cut.

"There are two new proposals on the table and to the extent that they are there, that's good," said Fehr, not sounding happy. "What we hope is that arising out of this there can be dialogue to push us the rest of the way to an agreement.

"We hope that's true. We hope it works out that it's true. There will be a discussion (Thursday) as to where do we go from here. We have a lot of internal processing and this is going to take a while. That's where the parties are. I'm not prepared to make a prediction on whether (the proposals made) will provide a roadmap to make an agreement."

By the sounds of it, the two sides are going in different directions. They made a small step by agreeing on HRR but nobody should be optimistic.

"We're all anxious to get a deal done as quickly as possible but it takes two sides to negotiate," said Bettman. "If there's a real intent on the other side to make a deal, then we'll get into a room and make a deal and address the issues in a meaningful way."

Bettman said the deadline to accept the offer is a must because the NHL is concerned the game will have a difficult time recovering from another lockout.

"With every day we're experiencing, and will continue to experience, damage to the game and to the business of the game," said Bettman. "What we're trying to do now is stem that damage. What we would be prepared to do now before there is extensive damage is not the same as what we would be prepared to do once we suffer that extensive damage.

"We are hopeful this will move these negotiations because I can assure you nobody wants to make a deal more than I do."

But the gap remains too large and a lockout looms.

FIVE BURNING CBA QUESTIONS

1. How do they divide the pie?

The NHL and the NHLPA can't get past this fundamental question, which is why discussions have been held up. The players currently get 57% of the revenues and the owners' latest offer was 47%. Until the players are willing to take a haircut -- similar to the 24% rollback they had in 2004-05 -- then these sides aren't going anywhere in discussions.

2. Length of term?

The players did come around on this issue Wednesday by offering up a deal that could last as long as five years with options. The NHL wants a six-year deal because Gary Bettman doesn't want to have go through this down the road. The NHLPA has maintained it wants a short-term deal to see how the mechanics of the CBA are working.

3. The revenue-sharing question?

Bettman claims they are on the same page here and it isn't that big a concern because the NHL believes there will be plenty. The NHLPA remains committed to the idea that if it can increase the revenues, it will grow the game and then the teams can help each other. The union says the NHL isn't doing enough to help small-market teams.

4. The significance of Saturday at 11:59 p.m.?

Bettman has given the players an ultimatum: They can take the latest offer or the lockout is a certainty. He said that if the players don't take this deal, then it won't exist when negotiations start again. The players see it as an idle threat. They want to be in training camp, but not at any cost, which means no deal could mean silence for awhile.

5. Where do we go from here?

The NHL and the NHLPA agreed they're willing to continue holding discussions right up until the deadline. Judging by how far apart they are, is that really necessary? They aren't even in the same neighborhood at the moment and they're talking about two different systems. A lockout looks unavoidable, with both sides dug into their positions.

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @sungarrioch


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