NHL lockout inches closer after meeting

The National Hockey League's collective bargaining agreement expires late Saturday night. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

   NEW YORK _ Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, painted a bleak picture following a meeting between representatives of the owners and players Wednesday as the two sides inched closer to a lockout.

    After a nearly three-hour meeting at the NHL’s headquarters in New York City, Bettman said the NHLPA’s proposal was “not much different” than their last one and labeled it “unacceptable.” He said the owners made a counter offer “in hopes of moving these negotiations along.”

   “I don’t know yet if this is going to lead to anything,” said Donald Fehr, head of the players’ union.

    Bettman said if the players don’t accept the owners’ latest proposal by Saturday night “that deal is off the table” because of damage that will be done if time is missed.

    The collective-bargaining agreement expires late Saturday night. If no agreement is in place by that time, the NHL will have its second lockout since 2004-05.

     The owners want a six-year CBA, while the players are hoping for a four-year pact. Bettman said the latest plan would give the players between $250 million and $300 million more than the owners’ previous proposal.

    Fehr didn’t seem impressed.

    Bettman said cutbacks on players’ salaries would be about 9.7 percent by the NHL’s estimation. The NHL’s initial proposal reportedly wanted the players to take a 24 percent cut.

      Other issues, such as length of contracts and revenue sharing, are on hold until the hockey-related revenue (HRR) debate is solved, Bettman said.

    The owners made a concession by deciding not to attempt to redefine what constitutes hockey-related revenue. But the league still wants a reduction in players’ salaries through escrow.

    In the last collective-bargaining agreement, players received 57 percent of the HRR. Before Wednesday, the NHL wanted to reduce the players’ share to 46 percent. Bettman said the league has raised that figure but would not give specifics.

      While the players believe revenue sharing will help the small-market teams stay afloat, Bettman doesn’t feel that way.

   “We don’t view revenue sharing as an issue,” Bettman said. “There’s going to be more than enough money to satisfy any revenue-sharing concerns.”

   As a show of solidarity, close to 300 players _ Including several Flyers_ met at a downtown Manhattan hotel for a union meeting Wednesday evening.