As the countdown continued to a lockout Saturday night at midnight, NHL owners and players appeared to be at an impasse on the core issue of sharing hockey-related revenue. The owners remained at an offer of 46 percent, up 1 percent from their last offer, but down from 57 percent in the expiring deal.
Ownership was firm in its intention to impose the lockout if no agreement is reached.
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"We are not prepared to open another season until we have a new collective-bargaining agreement," commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday, reiterating a stance that appeared strengthened by what he called a unanimous vote from the Board of Governors, who were briefed on the negotiations.
"We gave the owners a complete and thorough update," Bettman said, adding that he still had not heard back from Donald Fehr, executive director of the Players Association, on the revised proposal made Wednesday. Bettman said the union, which proposes a 52-percent share, has not significantly diminished its revenue demand from the existing contract when all the numbers are examined.
Fehr essentially had rejected the latest offer in comments to the media. As close to 300 players gathered to meet with Fehr and the executive board, the union leader called the prospective lockout a "choice," not a mandatory action in forcing an accord.
"The players very much want to reach an agreement provided it is one that is fair, which is equitable, treats them appropriately," he said.
Regarding the threatened lockout, Fehr said, "If that's the way it's going to be, then unfortunately that's the way it's going to be. But if we're interested in trying to find a way to reach an agreement to make sure that the NHL goes forward with the players and that the fans don't lose any hockey games, then maybe it's a choice that ought to be reconsidered.''
Penguins star Sidney Crosby said, "Right now I don't think it's looking like [the season] is going to start on time. As a player, you just want to play. This is not what we want to be doing this time of the year. We're showing that we're willing to move and that we're willing to sacrifice things . . . You look at hard numbers and there aren't a lot of incentives for players. It doesn't seem to address the key issues that we hear are issues."
Crosby and other NHL stars are considering options to play overseas if the season appears in jeopardy.
Rangers backup goaltender Martin Biron said there is "speculation left and right" about what might happen before Saturday night, "but I think it was very, very important to have guys here. The discussions were great. We want to grow the game, grow the fan base. It's not just about how we play this year. How do we make sure the game of hockey is going upwards year after year? This game went from a good place to a great place. We want to keep going in the same direction."