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NEW YORK - The NHL seemed headed for another lockout Friday as neither team owners nor players showed interest in getting back to contract negotiations a day before the old labor deal was set to expire.
Brief conversations late Thursday and Friday between leaders on the two sides failed to spur more formal talks - in fact, the idea of restarting negotiations didn't even come up. The current collective bargaining agreement that ended the season-long lockout in 2005 expires tonight at midnight, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said a lockout would kick in immediately if a new deal hasn't been reached.
"It's their decision," defenseman Mike Weaver, the Florida Panthers' player representative said Friday. "When that padlock comes out, it's pretty much Bettman's decision on there."
The lockout would mark the NHL's fourth work stoppage since 1992.
On Thursday night, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly spoke to players' association special counsel Steve Fehr, the brother of union executive director Donald Fehr. The discussions mostly dealt with answering questions each side have about current proposals.
Bettman has said the season won't start without a new deal. Preseason games are scheduled to start on Sept. 23 and the regular season on Oct. 11.
"We have been clear that the collective bargaining agreement, upon its expiration, needs to have a successful agreement for us to move forward," Bettman said Thursday. "The league is not in a position, not willing to move forward with another season under the status quo."
On Friday, the players' association submitted an application to the Quebec labor relations board to declare that the impending lockout is illegal in the province. The NHLPA and 16 Montreal players asked the board to make an interim ruling before the lockout is scheduled to begin in a bid to allow the Canadiens to attend training camp.
A similar request was filed late Thursday with the Alberta labor relations board. NHLPA director of operations Alexandra Dagg said the aim was to prevent players from the Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames from being locked out.
The NHLPA argued that because it isn't certified as a union with the province, its members can't locked out under Quebec labor law. In Alberta, the union will argue that proper procedure wasn't followed, including using a mediator.
The last labor stoppage caused the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season, a lockout that ended only when players accepted a salary cap and a 24 percent rollback of salaries.
"If we're not going to start camp on time, it's disappointing, for sure," Panthers forward Stephen Weiss said Friday. "We're all training all summer to be ready to play, and if we don't get that opportunity, it's disappointing. But I'm optimistic that we'll get a deal done sooner than later."
Following lockouts last year by basketball and football owners, Bettman says hockey management is determined to come away with economic gains, even if it forces another work stoppage.
"Two other leagues - the NBA and the NFL - their players have recognized that in these economic times there is a need to retrench," Bettman said Thursday.
Damage from another lockout will occur almost immediately, and there is no telling how jilted fans and sponsors will react to another shutdown, especially if it lasts stretches through the fall and into the winter.
Management's latest offer has a short shelf life. Once the lockout begins, Bettman says the economic damage would cause owners to offer players a less beneficial deal.
Players currently receive 57 percent of hockey-related revenue, and the owners want to bring that number down as far as perhaps 47 percent - which is an increase from their original offer of 43 percent. "The fact is, we believe that 57 percent of HRR is too much," Bettman said.
The union offered a deal based on actual dollars, seeking a guarantee of the $1.8 billion players received last season. Annual industry revenue has grown from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion under the expiring deal. Having made several big concessions to reach a deal in 2005, the union doesn't think it should have to make more this time after record financial growth.
"The players very much want to reach an agreement, provided that it is one which is fair and which is equitable and treats them appropriately," Donald Fehr said.