NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made public Thursday what he's been telling the NHL Players Association for months now: If the two sides don't have a deal by Sept. 15, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires, the league's owners will impose a lockout that will almost certainly delay the start of the 2012-13 season.
"I reconfirmed something the union has been told multiple times over the last 9-12 months: Namely, that time is getting short and the owners are not prepared to operate under this collective bargaining agreement for another season," Bettman told reporters outside the NHL's offices after a 90-minute session between the league and the NHLPA. "So we need to get to making a deal and doing it soon, and we believe there's ample time for the parties to make a deal."
Yesterday's meeting showed why a third lockout in 18 years seems likely. NHLPA chief Don Fehr, who said his side will have its own proposal to make on Tuesday in Toronto, made a presentation that demonstrated a "meaningful gulf" between the two sides when it comes to the revenue-sharing portion of the NHL's proposal, which would reduce the players' share of revenues from 57 percent to roughly 43 percent.
"The most important thing from our standpoint is essentially all of the revenue-sharing payments made by individual teams, they get back and then some in reduced player salaries," Fehr said.
Bettman countered: "While revenue-sharing has been an important part of the current agreement and we intend to improve upon it going forward, revenue-sharing isn't the key element. It's an element that has to be dealt with, but the fundamental economics have to be dealt with first."
Fehr, who was joined by Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro among the player contingent at the negotiating table, has maintained that the talks and the league do not need to come to a halt once Sept. 15 comes and there isn't a new deal. Bettman's public statements Thursday squashed that notion.
"This is not news," Bettman said. "The union has been told this repeatedly."
The parties have five weeks to hammer out a new deal or risk a third lockout under Bettman's tenure as commissioner. The league locked out the players for just over three months during the 1994-95 season, then a lockout canceled the entire 2004-05 season before getting the CBA that expires on Sept. 15.