NEW YORK - The NHL Players' Association took a shot at saving the season Wednesday and the NHL shot it down.
Hours after NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr tabled what many felt was a major step towards bridging the gap in collective bargaining talks, league commissioner Gary Bettman gave the deal a thumbs down and the lockout is showing no sign of ending.
Instead of trying to carve out an agreement through American Thanksgiving, the NHL served notice what the union served up wasn't enough and if the NHLPA wants to start talking turkey they'd better get on the same page.
"We're still far apart," said a grim-faced Bettman, speaking outside league headquarters. "I hope that (Wednesday) was a framework in a process that we hope to bring a positive resolution as quickly as possible."
That wasn't the way Fehr characterized the talks, which took place over the course of approximately four hours. The players felt they made a major step by offering up a full proposal.
That deal included an important 50-50 split in revenues across the board in a five-year deal. It as considered a major concession because in the past the players have always asked for a guarantee of revenues.
"We moved more than 80% of what (Bettman) said were the differences in their direction," said Fehr.
"On the big things, there was -- as of (Wednesday) -- no reciprocity in a meaningful sense. No movement on players' share, no movement on salary arbitration ability, free agency, pension plan, etc.
"Where we are is the players made dramatic move by anybody's standards to say, 'This is what you want and we can move a long way in your direction if we're going to get this game back on the ice and the fans are going to be able to watch it. We gotta hear something from you.' What we heard is what I mentioned to you."
Fehr said that with the offer the gap between the two sides was only $182-million -- exactly how much the players want the league to put into the 'Make Whole' provision in the first year.
The NHL didn't like the fact the union wanted more money in the pot and they wanted nothing to do with a proposed guaranteed salary cap of $67.5-million in Year 2 of the deal because nobody is sure what financial damage is being done by the lockout.
Bettman said he doesn't understand why the union didn't accept the NHL's proposal to for an 82-game season in October. Although Bettman is still working from that offer he's been told by many owners to take it off the table.
"We made a proposal to save an 82-game season and quite frankly we're all mystified as to why we're not playing in light of that offer and in light the fact the players are losing between $8- to $10-million per day,Ē said Bettman, who put the owners' losses at approximately $20-million per day.
"We could have been playing. We could have been continuing the momentum this game had on an offer and an agreement that was long-term and fair. There's a lot about this process that one could scratch their head about."
The players were stunned their proposal didn't at least get some traction. The two sides have agreed to speak Friday by phone, but all went their separate ways for the weekend and no bargaining is planned.
Fehr had a conference call with the players at 5 p.m. to explain what took place during the day.
"For whatever it's worth, if you tell the players what happened, and you let them draw their own conclusions, they understand it pretty quickly. They're bright people," said Fehr.
Asked if he was disappointed by the NHL's reaction, Fehr said: "I would say thatís fair yes."
Fehr isn't alone on that front.
BETTMAN: FEHR BEING MISLEADING
Gary Bettman was in foul mood on the eve of American Thanskgiving.
Tired of Donald Fehr blaming the NHL for the lockout, the commissioner lashed out at the NHL Players' Association and said the union's executive director didn't have his facts straight.
Bettman doesn't like Fehr calling it "the league's lockout".
"That's really not a constructive characterization. If there's a work stoppage, at minimum both sides are responsible for not coming to a deal," said Bettman. "To suggest that this is somehow our doing and the union has no culpability, I think (Fehr) is playing with you.
"In the final analysis, if you go back and check the history of these negotiations, when we wanted to start, when the union started, when the union stalled, when the union made the same proposal five times in a row without changing it and the first time they made a proposal was in August.
"If you think back, (Wednesday) is not the first time the union has come out of a session and talked about how wonderful their offer is or how close we are when in the fact the reality is they were misleading (the media). Everybody needs to take a step back and I don't think all this PR spinning is going to help get this done."
The next step for the league could be to cancel two weeks' worth of games in December and the All-Star Game in January as early as Friday.