NHL owners give Bettman go-ahead for lockout

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media in New York, N.Y., Sept. 13, 2012. (CARLO...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media in New York, N.Y., Sept. 13, 2012. (CARLO ALLEGRI/Reuters)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:03 PM ET

NEW YORK - Saturday will be Lockout Night in Canada.

Commissioner Gary Bettman, after meeting with the NHL board of governors for two hours, confirmed Thursday the league would shut its doors Saturday at 11:59 p.m. if no agreement has been reached on a collective bargaining agreement.

Speaking at a packed a news conference, Bettman said he had unanimous support to lock out members of the NHL Players' Association for the third time in 18 years when the current CBA expires, a decision that doesn't come as a surprise to the players.

"He loves his lockouts," Minnesota Wild winger Zach Parise said as the NHLPA wrapped up its two-day meetings at a Manhattan hotel. "There doesn't have to be (a lockout). We can keep playing and we're more than willing to keep playing under the old system. They're not willing to do that.

"We want things to be fair. That's the bottom line. What they're saying is not fair. They've been preaching the (lockout) for a while. I feel that's their negotiating tactic. Now, we're getting close to that day and they keep saying it. Maybe it's part of their strategy."

Bettman, wearing a dark suit, said he doesn't want a work stoppage.

"Listen, nobody wants to make a deal and play hockey more than I do," Bettman said when asked for his message to fans. "This is what I do. This is what my life is about in terms of how I spend most of my waking hours.

"This is really hard. And so you only get involved in this situation when you understand what the issues are and you know you're doing the right thing for the long-term stability of our game and our sport. This is very hard and I feel terrible about it."

Unfortunately, Bettman doesn't feel terrible enough to back off on his decision to close up shop. The sides exchanged proposals Wednesday, but neither has budged off its original position which means there isn't much common ground.

"We're trying to make the league healthy and make the pie bigger," said Anaheim's George Parros, a member of the NHLPA bargaining committee. "We're trying to make a deal that is best for both parties.

"Right now, they don't want to seem to do that. We're going in different directions, but we'll just see what happens. Your guess is as good as mine as to what might happen. There has got to be common ground somewhere and we want to find it. We obviously need to do that as quickly as possible."

The players believe the latest offer is a "money grab" that will roll back salaries. The NHLPA took a 24% pay cut on all existing contracts after the lockout in 2004-05 and doesn't want to give back more cash.

"The perception we have sometimes is that all they're interested in is talking about salary reductions," union boss Donald Fehr said, claiming the players want a "shared sacrifice" from both sides.

As the clock ticks down with no talks planned, Bettman accused the NHLPA of dragging its feet. He claimed Fehr and the players were holding out hope the existing CBA might get extended.

"Looking back in hindsight it looks like there was no urgency on the part of players to get anything done," Bettman said.

Bettman said he and deputy commissioner Bill Daly spent last weekend waiting for calls from the union that "never came."

"If you're dedicated to the negotiating process, you can move this along quickly," Bettman said. "If, for whatever reason, you're not interested in making a deal, you drag it out."

Bettman said there must be a correction in the business side of the system before hockey is played again.

"The fact of the matter is we believe as a league, we are paying out too much money," Bettman said.

The buck will stop at Bettman's office Saturday night.

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @sungarrioch


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