- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- With three days remaining until a league-imposed lockout, the NHL and NHL Players' Association exchanged proposals during a meeting here Wednesday afternoon, though the likelihood a deal gets done before the weekend still appears bleak.
Both sides traded revamped versions of their last proposals to address the core economic issues that continue to polarize the two groups.
The NHLPA, led by executive director Donald Fehr, made its presentation in the morning, but that quickly was dismissed by commissioner Gary Bettman, who said it wasn't much different than earlier offers.
Bettman then met with Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, and Murray Edwards of the Calgary Flames, and a new NHL offer was handed back to the players' association with a shelf life on it -- it's off the table on Saturday.
"Their proposal was really not much different, except around the edges, from the last proposal they made, which we had indicated was not acceptable," Bettman said.
"We caucused and we decided, that in hopes of moving negotiations along before the weekend, that we would make yet another proposal, which we did. It had meaningful movement in it and it was an attempt to engage the union finally in trying to make a deal."
When asked to quantify what "meaningful movement" meant, Bettman declined to reveal the change in percentage with respect to hockey-related revenue. However, he did say the new offer included $250 million to $300 million more than the last.
A source told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun that the league's counterproposal was six years in length and starts players at 49 percent of hockey-related revenue, then phases them down to 47 percent over the course of the term. Their previous proposal had the players at 46 percent, and their first proposal was 43 percent.
In the expiring CBA, the players were given 57 percent of the total. The definition of hockey-related revenues wasn't changed from the current deal.
"We're not asking for a rollback," Bettman said. "We have said that our proposal -- the one that is time-sensitive -- would have a phase-in, and while it contemplates the possible reduction in player share, if you use our estimates, it would be under 10 percent. If you use the players' association's estimate on revenue growth, it would actually be 7 percent.
"When you factor all of that in, it seems to me that having a work stoppage and damaging (hockey-related revenue) long term really doesn't make a whole lot of sense."
Bettman warned, though, that the offer would be taken off the table Saturday.
"We made clear ... that this proposal was intended to make a deal before the weekend, before the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement, and that if in fact a deal was not achievable, what we proposed would be off the table," Bettman said.
Fehr indicated the league's latest proposal still required the players to give back too much.
"While it is accurate, in a sense, that the owners' proposal does not take quite as much money from the players, somebody might say they've moved from an extraordinarily large amount to a really very big amount," he said. "Something like that."
Fehr also outlined the players' proposal, which avoids, as all of the union's previous offers have, from consenting to any immediate, absolute further salary reductions.
The union's proposal would further limit the players' share by tying it to revenue and would allow for the term of the deal to extend to five years. The union's previous offers were made with the structure of a three-year deal and a fourth option year.
"What the players said is this: We'll take a lot less than 57 percent going forward, which means the players' share will fall towards 50 percent, but in return for not taking a share, we'd like a guarantee for a certain amount," Fehr said.
Using projections generated by the league's average yearly growth in the past decade, the union estimates the players' share will be 54.3, 52.5, 52.0 and 52.0 in Years 1 through 4, respectively.
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 Saturday.
While the NHL and NHLPA will both take time to look over and analyze the respective proposals, there are no further meetings scheduled at this point. The two sides said they'll remain in touch in advance of Saturday's expiration date.
"There was some improvement today in the sense that we at least appear to be talking about the same definitions, there are two new proposals on the table, and to the extent that they are there, that's good," Fehr said. "What we hope is that arising out of this, there can be dialogue that can push us the rest of the way in an effort to reach an agreement."
The NHLPA held player meetings -- 275 players were expected -- Wednesday and were expected to hold more Thursday in New York. Bettman will meet with the board of governors on Thursday afternoon.
The league has stated its intent to lock out the players Saturday, and Bettman confirmed he has the green light from the board of governors to do so.
As he has all along, Bettman insisted that the league will not operate the upcoming season under the current economic plan, and cited damage that will result from an impending lockout as the reason the current offer won't be viable after this weekend.
"What we would be prepared to do now to make a deal before there is extensive damage is not the same that we will be prepared to do in the event we get to a point where we have suffered the damage," Bettman said. "We looked at their proposal. It was clear that there wasn't very much movement at all -- if any.
"We said we have to try something different, which is why we tried to simplify the approach and focus on the percentage."
Elsewhere, the union filed an application with Quebec's labor relations board, along with at least 16 Montreal Canadiens players, asking it to declare a lockout illegal in the province. A hearing on the application is scheduled for Friday morning in Montreal.
"The players don't want to see hockey interrupted," Fehr said. "We believe under Quebec law, a lockout would not be appropriate and would not be legal, so we are asserting that position. We would like to think that is consistent with the interests of the fans and eventually consistent with the interests of the owners.
"We'll let the legal proceedings take care of themselves."
What makes this week unique -- in addition to the deadline looming -- is the number of players who will be on hand. Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, one of the league's biggest stars, is among them. He skated Tuesday with some of his Penguins teammates in suburban Pittsburgh before traveling here.
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 their problems by re-examining the teams' revenue-sharing format.
"We're not in position to make a judgment as to whether this is going to be productive. We have to wait and see," Fehr said. "Every day is in some sense more important than the last one. The commissioner has indicated that a lockout will begin if no agreement is reached. We take him at his word as we have for the better part of a year. So in that sense it is.
"On the other hand, you can only make a deal when people are ready to make a deal."
The strife is threatening regular-season openers scheduled to start Oct. 11. The preseason schedule is set to begin Sept. 19.
An 11-day strike in April 1992 caused 30 NHL 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 2004-05 lockout started Sept. 16, 2004, when training camps were to open (as they are this year) and wasn't settled until July 13, 2005.
Many of the players who will not attend the meetings will stay back in their respective cities and continue preparations for training camps that might not come.
On Monday in Boston, for example, the Bruins gathered for their annual precamp golf tournament. A similar event occurred with the Sabres in Buffalo on Monday. 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," Bruins coach Claude Julien said Monday. "It's just a matter of staying out of it and respecting both sides."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
The NHL and the players' association swapped proposals Wednesday in an effort to head off a lockout scheduled to start this weekend.