NHL, players still 'far apart' in labor talks

Posted at 11/22/2012 7:10 PM

The National Hockey League (NHL) and the players' association were still "far apart" on Wednesday after returning to the bargaining table for two sessions of talks in a bid to end their bitter, two-month-old labor dispute.

The union presented a fresh, percentage-based economic proposal in the hope of brokering a new collective bargaining agreement that would salvage the season but the league said the latest offer fell short of its expectations.

"There was movement on some issues by the players association and that was appreciated," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters. "There was movement by us on some issues, but we're still far apart.

"Hopefully there will have been some momentum from today's session that we can build off of to hopefully, again hopefully, bring this process to a successful conclusion.

"I think it's frustrating for everybody and disappointing for everybody that it's taken this long and that we're still far apart, but we're going to stay at it."

NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr, representing players who have been locked out by the owners since Sept. 15, was frustrated by the league's response after it had reviewed the new proposal.

"The players made a dramatic move by anybody's standards," Fehr said. "We eliminated the concern we had about the big gap on the players share - moved more than 80 percent of what the commissioner had said our differences were in their direction.

"They gave us a response ... but 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 movement on a pension plan, although they say they'd like to do it."

BRICK WALL

Fehr felt the union had come up against a solid brick wall in its negotiations with the league.

"If one of you is going to ask me 'what happens next?' the answer would be, 'I don't know'," he said. "We'll consider, talk to the players and then see.

"They (the league) appreciated it (our offer), but reiterated that they can't move. Thanks, but you have to agree to what we say."

Wednesday's talks took place just two days after the two sides had met at the same venue with no progress being made in the ongoing negotiations with the entire season at stake.

The NHL has already called off all games through Nov. 30, as well as its showcase Winter Classic on New Year's Day, costing the league millions of dollars in revenue.

The work stoppage is the fourth in 20 years for the NHL, the most recent wiping out the 2004-5 season.

League owners would like to avoid long-term contracts, limiting them to five years, delay free agency until a player turns 28 or plays eight years, have two-year entry deals and limit salary arbitration until after five years of play.

They also want to reduce the players' share of $3.3 billion in annual revenue to 50 percent from the current 57 percent. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Julian Linden and Nick Mulvenney)