Lockout looms as NHL negotiations stall

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The NHL was poised to impose a lockout of its players Saturday night -- the league's third since 1994 -- as no formal negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement were held before a midnight deadline on the expiring agreement.

"We spoke today and determined that there was no point in convening a formal bargaining session in light of the fact that neither side is in a position to move off of its last proposal,'' deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email to the Associated Press before the deadline. " . . . We are sorry for where we are. Not what we hoped or expected."

The Players' Association issued a release quoting special counsel Steve Fehr, who said in part, "Today we suggested that the parties meet in advance of the owners' self-imposed deadline . . . The NHL said that it saw no purpose in having a formal meeting . . . ''

The central issue remains disagreement on how to split hockey related revenue. The players want a guaranteed amount, reported at $1.8-$1.91 billion in the first year of a player-proposed five-year deal, while the owners are offering a sliding percentage based on actual income starting at 49 percent and dropping to 47 in the final year. Both sides have said their offers would be off the table if a lockout occurs.

Camps were to open Friday and regular season games are scheduled for Oct. 11. The last lockout canceled the entire 2004-2005 season.

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman last week said the union has dictated the slow pace of negotiations. "We went to the union last summer, a year ago and said we're ready to begin negotiations,'' he said. "Looking back in hindsight it looks like there was no urgency on the part of the players association to engage or get anything done. What's happened over the summer seems to be reinforcing that.''

Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr countered late Friday, saying, "The problem with this negotiation has nothing to do with the amount of time people have spent on it -- or not spent on it . . . The problem is their negotiation position; it has nothing to do with the amount of time. If at any time, they had wanted to send us a proposal, to make points, they could have done it." Fehr called the lockout a "choice,'' by the league.

Contemplating the lockout, Bettman said, "Nobody wants to make a deal and play hockey more than I do . . . This is really hard. You only get involved 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."

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