Hope fades as NHL labor talks drag

Updated: November 16, 2012, 6:39 PM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The stalemate between the NHL and NHL Players' Association may last longer than expected, possibly stretching into December.

Multiple sources told ESPN that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman suggested to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr on Wednesday that the two sides take a two-week moratorium from negotiations. The news was earlier reported by TSN's Aaron Ward.

Fehr informed Bettman he'd like to speak with his membership first, a source said. The union likely will give Bettman a response Friday, although it is believed it would prefer meeting rather than not.

Bettman's suggestion follows a disheartening week of limited communication between the sides. The league and the union last met face to face on Sunday in a meeting that lasted less than an hour and yielded no progress.

After the short session, in which neither side seemed willing to concede on its respective position on player-contracting issues, Fehr said he couldn't see a "path to an agreement."

That prompted Bettman to float the possibility of the sides taking some time off to regroup before resuming negotiations, one source said.

The sides did not have any communication Thursday.

"I find it incredible that the Union is suggesting that we are somehow 'close' to a deal," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email to ESPN. "They have utterly refused to negotiate for months. They have made essentially one proposal -- five times. They continue to request a 'guaranteed' Players Share as part of the next agreement and we repeatedly tell them maybe they should get a reality check. And in the mean time, maybe they can make their position clear to us on 50-50, on the make-whole and on Player Contracting issues."

NHLPA's special counsel Steve Fehr countered Daly's statement.

"Of course everyone on the players' side wants to reach an agreement," he said. "The players have offered the owners concessions worth about a billion dollars. What exactly have the owners offered the players? We believe that it is more likely that we will make progress if we meet than if we don't.

"So we are ready to meet. If indeed they do not want to meet, it will be at least the third time in the last three months that they have shut down the dialogue, saying they will not meet unless the players meet their preconditions. What does that tell you about their interest in resolving this?"

Any hope an agreement was close after the sides met for four straight days last week was quickly dashed when things went south during the final session Friday evening.

ESPNNewYork.com reported there were heated exchanges made across the negotiating table between players and the ownership side, including Bettman.

And although the sides returned to the table fairly quickly, Sunday's discussion turned out to be fruitless, as well.

The two sides remain divided on how to share revenue and player contract issues, as well as who shoulders the financial burden of the losses incurred as a result of the lockout.

With scant optimism that a new collective bargaining agreement will be reached soon, reports surfaced Thursday that the next round of cancellations could be on the horizon.

The league already has been forced to cancel 327 regular-season games -- through Nov. 30 -- as well as the annual Winter Classic. There also has been speculation that the fate of the season may be in jeopardy soon.

Daly admitted he is frustrated with the state of negotiations.

"I'm more discouraged now than I have been at any point in the process," he said.

Information from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun and The Associated Press was used in this report.

Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPN.com. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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