NHL, players not close to new CBA

Gary Bettman was not happy with the offers presented to the NHL by the players' association, and...

Gary Bettman was not happy with the offers presented to the NHL by the players' association, and said the meeting went nowhere fast. (Stan Behal/QMI Agency)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:11 PM ET

TORONTO - Gary Bettman wore a dark suit on a dark day for hockey.

A full 82-game schedule hangs in the balance after the NHL Players' Association outright rejected a proposal by owners for a 50-50 split in revenues Thursday and gave a counter-offer the NHL didn't think was worth a second look.

With an Oct. 25 deadline looming to get a labour deal to allow a full season starting Nov. 2, a source said the next move by the NHL could be to cancel "a large chunk" of games to send a message to the players.

Bettman sounded like a defeated man when he emerged from the union's office only one hour after meeting with NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who was backed by 18 players -- including Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby.

"We gave it our best shot," Bettman said. "It is our best offer. We gave the (players) what we had to give.

"We indicated we're prepared to have discussions. We're willing to make tweaks or adjustments.

"But, this is a deal we believe the league needs (in order to start the season). We believe it's fair to the players. We hope we can continue to grow the game. The longer this goes, particularly with not being able to have an 82-game season, the damage may make it even more difficult, as time goes on, to make a deal. I am, to say the least, thoroughly disappointed."

Bettman was extremely upset the players didn't even bother to respond to the offer the NHL tabled Tuesday that included a significant 50-50 revenue split. Instead, Fehr and the players worked off a proposal they made in the summer.

A league source said the players worked their way to a 50-50 split in all three proposals but none included any guarantees, which is why it took a grand total of 15 minutes to dismiss them.

"It's clear that we're not speaking the same language with what they came back to us with," Bettman said. "It is still my hope that we can accomplish my goal, the league's goal, of getting an 82-game season, but I am concerned based on the proposal that was made (Thursday).

"Things are not progressing. To the contrary, I view the proposal that was made by the (players) in many ways a step backward. The proposal that we made at 50-50 ... was the best we could do."

So, what's next? The two sides will step back and have no plans to meet. Although they're willing to speak anytime, QMI Agency pointed out to Bettman they don't have anything to talk about.

"The next step is hopefully we'll hear back (from the players) but I don't know what the next step is. I'm obviously very discouraged," Bettman said. "Based on where we are today, we're always happy to talk.

"But, as you see, despite what we did on Tuesday, we were done in an hour today because there was really nothing there."

League sources say an inability to come to an agreement has put the full season in peril, while the Winter Classic and NHL all-star game are in doubt. There is talk as much as two months of the schedule soon could be chopped.

Do the players understand the impact of their outright dismissal of the offer made Tuesday?

"I'm not in the mode of either trying to threaten or lecture the players," Bettman said. "I believe they're being represented by people who are advising them, I assume, of what the challenges are when you're in this situation.

"Anybody who follows this game understands what's at stake and the dynamic that is in play. I don't know the time-frame. I was focused on (Thursday's meeting), but as the calendar ticks away we're going to do some more cancellations."

Both sides will enter a cooling-off period. Fans had better hope that it doesn't become a deep freeze that results in months without talks and a cancelled season. That possibility surely exists.

"I wish I had better news," Bettman said.

The news could only get worse.

PLAYERS WANT GUARANTEES

The battle for a new collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the players union is a trust issue.

It's pretty clear the players don't trust the owners.

If the sides are, indeed, going to come to a labour agreement and save the season, the union wants a guarantee from the league that all existing contracts will be honoured -- including the ones that were signed last summer before the CBA expired Sept. 15.

The players were concerned that if they had accepted the offer that was tabled Tuesday they would have ended up dipping into their own pockets and wouldn't have got all the contracted money.

"We just want them to honour those current contracts we're under right now and that's pretty much all we're asking," Chicago Blackhawks centre Jonathan Toews said. "We've been more than willing to bargain and negotiate fairly.

"We're willing to work, eventually, toward a 50-50 split of revenues."

The players don't want to take a rollback immediately and the offer tabled Tuesday represented another 12% cut.

"Their offer was going to pay us back with our own money," Toews said. "That's not honouring the current contracts."

LEAGUE WENT PUBLIC FOR FAIRNESS: BETTMAN

Gary Bettman wanted to set the record straight.

The NHL commissioner made no apologies for the league's decision to have full disclosure and publicly release the offer Wednesday that had been made to the players the day before.

While it looked like nothing more than making sure the players got a first-hand peek at the full offer and a chance to try to win the all-important public relations battle, Bettman insisted he just wanted to make sure all the facts were correct.

"Why was our proposal made public? Because it was being leaked, mischaracterized and erroneously portrayed and tweeted on Tuesday night," he said Thursday.

"We felt in fairness with everybody associated with the game they should understand exactly what we proposed. There were a number of tweets suggesting that we were still changing the definition of HRR (hockey-related revenue). When you look at the proposal, it's absolutely clear that we're not."

It sounded a little rich when Bettman said he didn't want to have a public fight with the union.

"I don't believe getting into negotiations publicly -- characterizing and mischaracterizing them -- is healthy," he said.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr wouldn't comment on the league's decision to release the offer. He said that was the NHL's right.


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