Gary Bettman running low on hope

Updated: October 24, 2012, 8:15 PM ET
By Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- With labor negotiations stalled, there does not appear to be any hope of preserving a full 82-game season by Thursday's deadline. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said as much Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, it looks like an 82-game season is not going to be a reality," Bettman said at a news conference from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the Islanders announced they would be relocating starting with the 2015-16 season.

Bettman painted a bleak picture on the state of negotiations with players and said the union "has chosen not to engage on our proposal."

The league made its last offer to the NHLPA on Oct. 16, one that included a 50/50 revenue split and a provision to "make whole" existing player contracts by employing deferred payments. Bettman had said that if a deal could be reached by Thursday, a full season still could be achieved.

The union responded last Thursday with a trio of its own offers. However, all three were rejected by the league within 10 minutes.

The union requested a formal meeting with the league Tuesday night but was rebuffed. The NHL maintained that if the NHLPA was unwilling to work off the league's last proposal, then a meeting wasn't necessary.

Bettman said he had no indication as to when the league and union would resume negotiations.

Asked what it would take for the two sides to get back to the negotiating table, Bettman said "a reason to get back to the table. There's always a reason because, of course, we want to be playing, but in terms of the negotiations themselves, as we indicated, we made our best offer to save an 82-game season and it was not something that the players' association demonstrated any interest in.

"We suggested they could talk to us about what we proposed or make on offer of (their) own and they declined to do either."

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr responded Wednesday night.

"The players made multiple core-economic proposals on Thursday that were a significant move in the owners' direction," he said in a statement. "We are and continue to be ready to meet to discuss how to resolve our remaining differences, with no preconditions. For whatever reason, the owners are not. At the same time they are refusing to meet, they are winding the clock down to yet another artificial deadline they created."

The lack of traction in negotiations resulted in the second block of cancellations made by the league last week, and more appear to be on the way.

According to a source with knowledge of the league's plan, there is likely to be a significant round of cancellations by the end of this week if no progress in negotiations is made. That source also told ESPNNewYork.com that the league's marquee moneymaker, the Winter Classic, is very much in jeopardy.

Asked when the league would be forced to make a decision on the annual outdoor game -- scheduled to be held New Year's Day between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium -- Bettman responded "very soon."

"I'm not going to give you an exact timetable, but at some point in November we will have to commit many millions of dollars to get ready for the Winter Classic, so if there's still uncertainty, we're going to have to make a decision," he said. "And my guess is, we're not going to commit those dollars unless we have certainty."

Bettman also indicated the league's last offer is unlikely to improve the longer the lockout endures.

"We made our very best offer, and that offer was contingent upon playing an 82-game season, for better or for worse," he said, "so I think things, in some respects, may get more difficult."

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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