The NHL and its players' association exchanged proposals for a new collective bargaining agreement Wednesday, just three days before the expiration of the current deal. Both sides stuck to their core values, however, meaning hockey fans are still staring at a lockout Saturday night.
"There's enough time if people want to make a deal, and it takes two sides to make a deal," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters in New York.
The sides made some progress during Wednesday's negotiations, but not enough to create optimism.
"It is too early to say whether this is going to represent any meaningful progress," Donald Fehr, the NHLPA's executive director, told reporters in Manhattan. "Hopefully, in retrospect, this will prove to be a positive day. If it doesn't then maybe tomorrow will be or the next day or next week or whenever that happens to be."
The biggest move involved the owners agreeing to retain the current definition of hockey-related revenue (referred to as HRR). The players' salaries are tied to revenue, and the NHL's previous proposals tried to change HRR, which would have given the players a share of a smaller pool of money.
Bettman made it clear this could be looked at as a take-it-or-leave-it proposal.
"It was an attempt to engage the union finally in trying to make a deal, at least on the economic main issue," said Bettman, who attended negotiations with Boston Bruins owner and Buffalo native Jeremy Jacobs and Calgary Flames co-owner Murray Edwards. "We made clear in presenting the proposal that this proposal was intended to lead to a deal before the weekend, before the end of the current collective bargaining agreement, and that if in fact a deal was not achievable, what we had proposed would be off the table, and we were quite clear on that."
Fehr said the union would examine the offer before commenting. The NHLPA was expected to welcome more than 250 players to New York on Wednesday for meetings that will continue this morning. A number of Sabres had said they would attend, including captain Jason Pominville and defenseman Mike Weber.
The NHL's newest proposal would give the players 49 percent of hockey-related revenue this season, according to ESPN, then dip to 47 percent during the life of the six-year deal. The league's initial proposal offered the players 43 percent of a redefined HRR, and the second offer bumped the number to 46 percent.
"We are hopeful, which is why we made the offer that we did, that this will elicit some positive movement and move these negotiations along because I assure you nobody wants to make a deal more than I do," said Bettman, who will preside over a board of governors meeting this afternoon in New York. "It seems to me that having a work stoppage and damaging HRR long term really doesn't make a whole lot of sense."
The union still views the offer as a salary rollback. The players received 57 percent of revenues last season.
The NHLPA's latest proposal, which was derided by the commissioner, reportedly would have dropped the players' share to 53.3 percent this season and gone down through the course of the five-year deal.
"Our proposal was made with the same principles that we have had in mind," Fehr said. "Those are that we didn't see any reason, given the seven years of record revenue growth and the enormous concessions the players made the last time, to have an absolute reduction in players' salaries. They are prepared to have their share, if you will, fall over time as revenues grow. We hope to partner with the large-revenue teams in providing whatever assistance to franchises may be called for, generally under the rubric of revenue sharing."
"There's going to be more than enough money to satisfy any revenue sharing concerns," Bettman said. "We don't think that's an issue at all. I think it's being put out there as an issue, perhaps as a means of obfuscating what's really going on here."
While most of the action was in New York, the union also tried a power play in Montreal. The NHLPA and at least 16 members of the Canadiens filed an application with the Quebec Labor Relations Board in which it asked the board to declare the looming lockout illegal. In Quebec, an employer is not allowed to lock out employees unless they belong to a union that has been certified by the Quebec labor board. The NHLPA is not a certified union in Quebec.
An emergency hearing on the application is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday in Montreal. The NHL will lock out the players if a new collective bargaining agreement is not in place by 11:59 p.m. Saturday.
"The players don't want to see hockey interrupted," Fehr said. "We believe that under Quebec law a lockout would not be appropriate and would not be legal, so we're asserting that position."