NHL's Bettman disappointed with union's proposals

| Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, 5:58 p.m.

There are seven shopping days for the NHL and the Players' Association to find the perfect Halloween treat for hockey fans — a full 82-game season.

Achieving that might prove quite the trick after a failed negotiation meeting between the league and union Thursday in Toronto.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he was “very discouraged” by the union's counter to a league offer from Tuesday.

“We're not speaking the same language,” Bettman said.

How to divide revenue and guaranteeing of previously signed contracts remain core issues.

The NHL and union have laid out offers that claim to call for a 50/50 split of everything that comprises revenue, though both sides dispute the other's math. What constitutes revenue — ranging from ticket sales to sponsorships — and who pays more for costs — from arena upgrades to extra team trainers — differs for both sides.

The NHL's offer to guarantee current contracts using deferred payments does not fly with the union.

Players object to the proposal because those deferred payments would still count against a team's payroll even if that player no longer is with the team. The union contends that would impact a team's salary cap and could limit the money available to other free agents.

Union executive director Donald Fehr charged the NHL is only willing to negotiate off an offer it made Tuesday. That proposal was the first by either side in 34 days. The owners locked out players Sept. 15.

No future negotiations were planned after talks broke Thursday. The union proposed three plans, each rejected in about 10 minutes, said Sidney Crosby of the Penguins.

“That doesn't seem like a group that's willing to negotiate,” said Crosby, one of four NHL team captains and 18 players overall to attend the meeting.

After the roughly hourlong meeting that followed a union conference call with players, Bettman reiterated that an 82-game season is possible only if games begin Nov. 2. A shortened schedule is guaranteed — and both the Winter Classic and All-Star Game at risk — if the NHL and union cannot agree on a new labor deal by Oct. 25, he said.

Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks insisted the union “won't overreact” to the NHL's deadline to play 82 games.

Players and agents who monitored the meetings from afar Thursday said they expect the league to cancel more games soon, probably four weeks of contests. The league already has canceled two weeks of games, including six for the Penguins. Those games would be made up in a compressed schedule under the NHL's proposal.

Crosby, who said this week he was optimistic the NHL would not lose an entire season as it did seven years ago, said Thursday a quick resolution to the labor dispute “doesn't look good right now.”

He also said he will “look harder” at playing for a European team.

His Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin, the reigning league MVP, is playing for a Russian club. More than 150 NHL players have joined European-based teams during the lockout — including Washington's Nicklas Backstrom, who decided to join the Kontinental Hockey League (Russia) before the NHL/NHLPA meeting Thursday.

Bettman was joined at the meeting by four owners, including highly influential Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins. Many owners did not want to offer a 50/50 split, Bettman said.

Previous negotiations have included owners and players, but the NHL and NHLPA seemed to be set on displaying a show of force at this negotiation.

“It's a lot better to have more guys hear it right from (owners') mouths than reading it through the media,” said Brooks Orpik of the Penguins, who did not attend the meeting Thursday.

“The bottom line is a lot of players didn't want to go to 50 percent after we got 57 percent in the last CBA. We did. Now we just want our contracts that were promised to us. I guess we'll see how that goes. Hopefully everybody wakes up tomorrow and we start moving toward getting hockey back.”

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