Gary Bettman: Sides 'still far apart'

Updated: November 22, 2012, 10:01 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- NHL labor talks broke off soon after they resumed Wednesday, with players maintaining their new proposal was a huge economic concession and commissioner Gary Bettman pretty much saying the only deal he will agree to is the one management proposed last month.

On the 67th day of a lockout that already has wiped out more than a quarter of the regular season, the sides headed home for Thanksgiving with no end in sight to the sport's fourth work stoppage.

"I think it's frustrating for everybody and disappointing for everybody that's it's taken this long and we're still far apart," Bettman said.

The union's negotiating committee planned to brief players and get back in touch with management on Friday.

"We're dealing with a union that really isn't trying to negotiate, make any deal that we can live with for the long-term health of this game," Bettman said outside the league's Manhattan office when questioned by a fan, 41-year-old Jaymes Hall of Lancaster, Pa. "We're hoping that with the passage of time, the players' association will come to realize that what we have proposed has been more than fair.

"And the fact that we're keeping this proposal on the table, when it was contingent on an 82-game season, should be evidence of our desire to get this done the right way."

Informed of Bettman's comments, union head Donald Fehr said "my response is they seem to consider negotiating to be merely agreeing with them."

"We've identified what's important to players, but they seem to be so far at least unwilling to treat those concerns in a serious way," Fehr said in a telephone interview.

Players made what both sides called a comprehensive proposal. Fehr said the sides were $182 million apart in a five-year deal, which comes to $1.2 million annually for each of the 30 teams.

"On the big things there was as of today no reciprocity in any meaningful sense, no movement on the players' share, no movement on salary-arbitration eligibility, no movement on free agency eligibility, no agreement on a pension plan," Fehr said as he left the talks.

The New York Rangers' Brad Richards told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun via text that the NHLPA's proposal "is a move in their direction again and based off of their proposal. There has to be an effort from them to get this done now."

Bettman on Oct. 16 proposed a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue. With guaranteed contracts likely to push the players' share over the halfway mark originally, management wants that money to come out of future years to bring the overall percentage down to an even split over the length of an agreement.

Players previously had proposed they receive a guaranteed amount of income each year.

The NHLPA offered to accept the NHL's proposed 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue right from the first year of a deal, NHLPA sources told ESPN.com.

However, the NHLPA proposal calls for the "make whole" provision to go up from the $211 million the NHL offered two weeks ago to $393 million, the sources said.

The NHLPA's latest proposal was the result of a major push by the moderates in the union's membership to submit a new offer, a source told ESPNNewYork.com.

Those players, the source said, stressed the importance of moving off the guaranteed player amount featured in previous proposals and moving to the NHL's preferred percentage-based division of revenue. The move was an attempt to get the two sides "speaking the same language" so as to expedite a deal, the source said.

"There seems to be a lot of spinning and gamesmanship going on," Bettman said.

Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey, among nine players at the bargaining, said the union was "disappointed with the response."

"There was no meaningful move in our direction on anything that we would consider," he said.

Fehr nearly said players found the day's two bargaining sessions, which totaled 2½ hours, to be a waste of time.

"A lot of the people that were there today, given the response we got, thought they had a lot better things to do on the night before Thanksgiving than hear what we got," he said.

A source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com that the breakdown on the "make whole" payments through Years 1-4 (deferred by one year) is as follows: 2012-13: $182 million; 2013-14: $128 million; 2014-15: $72 million; 2015-16: $11 million.

One interesting feature of the NHLPA's offer is that, beginning in Year 2, the players' share in dollars cannot be lower than the previous year. That protects the players from both the potential devaluation of the Canadian dollar and a possible decline in revenue, thereby shifting the risk onto the owners.

Multiple sources confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com that the union feels the league took a significant step back in one important player contracting issue -- salary arbitration. Those sources said the league's response to the NHLPA's latest offer included an additional year to salary arbitration to all players who sign to reach eligibility.

"To expect our best economic proposal to get better as the damage continues to increase isn't particularly realistic," Bettman said. "From an economic standpoint, we've given what we have to give. It was our best offer. And again, put it in the context that the business is probably losing between $18 and $20 million a day and the players are losing between $8 and $10 million a day."

This is the league's third lockout since 1994. The first settled on Jan. 11 and the last one led to Bettman announcing the cancellation of the 2004-05 season on Feb. 15.

The league has canceled 326 games through Nov. 30 plus the Jan. 1 Winter Classic between Toronto and Detroit in Ann Arbor, Mich. More cancellations are coming.

"That's something that we're going to have to look at on a daily basis," Bettman said. "I think that becomes inevitable as time goes on."

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

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