The NHL and the players' association swapped proposals Wednesday in an effort to head off a lockout scheduled to start this weekend.
The NHLPA, led by executive director Donald Fehr, made its presentation in the morning, but that was quickly dismissed by Commissioner Gary Bettman, who said it wasn't much different than earlier offers.
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"We made clear in presenting the proposal that this proposal was intended to lead to a deal before the weekend," Bettman said after the nearly three-hour meeting, "and that if in fact a deal was not achievable, what we had proposed would be off the table. We were quite clear on that."
After not meeting face to face since last Friday, the sides gathered Wednesday at the league office before the NHLPA holds player meetings later Wednesday at a nearby midtown hotel. The NHL board of governors will convene Thursday with Bettman, while the union holds a second day of discussions with as many as 250 players.
Fehr confirmed that the union issued a new proposal, and said it was "consistent" with the last one the union submitted. The league responded with their time-sensitive counter, and Fehr, despite the developments, admitted he does not "know whether this will lead to anything."
Wednesday's hastily scheduled negotiating session came just hours after NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said owners and players were both to blame for their failure to reach a new collective bargaining agreement before the current deal expires on Saturday.
This is the first formal session since Aug. 31.
Fehr was generic when meeting the media quickly, on his way into the office Wednesday.
"We have some things to tell them today," he said.
Elsewhere, the union filed an application with Quebec's labor relations board, along with at least 16 players of the Montreal Canadiens, asking it to declare a lockout illegal in the province. A hearing on the application is scheduled for Friday morning in Montreal.
What makes this week unique -- in addition to the deadline looming over all of it, of course -- is the amount of players who will be on hand. It will indeed be the offseason's biggest show of force. Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, one of the league's biggest stars, is one of them. He skated on Tuesday with some of his Penguins teammates in suburban Pittsburgh before traveling to New York.
Industry revenue has grown from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion annually under the expiring deal. Owners asked players to cut their share of hockey related revenue from 57 to 43 percent, and then modified their offer to 46 percent during a six-year proposal. Players are concerned management hasn't addressed its problems by re-examining the teams' revenue-sharing format.
The sides haven't had a full bargaining session since Aug. 31 and the strife is threatening regular-season openers scheduled to start Oct. 11. The preseason schedule is set to begin on Sept. 19.
An 11-day strike in April 1992 caused 30 games to be postponed, and a 103-day lockout in 1994-95 caused the cancellation of 468 games and delayed the season's start until Jan. 20. The 2004 lockout started Sept. 16 when training camps were to open, as they are this year, and wasn't settled until July 13.
Many of the players who will not attend the meetings will stay back in their respective cities and continue preparations for training camps that may not come. On Monday in Boston, for instance, the Bruins gathered for their annual, pre-camp golf tournament. A similar even occurred in Buffalo on Monday, as well. And in suburban Philadelphia, several Flyers continue to skate on their own at the team's training complex.
Lost in the mix are the coaches. For the most part, they are bystanders in this negotiation. They simply wait to be told who to coach, and more importantly, when.
"You work for the owners and you work with the players," Boston coach Claude Julien said Monday. "It's just a matter of staying out of it and respecting both sides."