NHL, Union Have Contact, But No Talks Scheduled

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Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, right, and Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby skate during the NHL Winter Classic outdoor game.

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By IRA PODELL, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — With a lockout drawing ever closer, the NHL and the players' union are in touch with each other after a day of internal meetings.

But no new negotiating sessions are scheduled for Friday, one day before Commissioner Gary Bettman has said he will lock out the players. This would be the NHL's fourth work stoppage since 1992.

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On Thursday night, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly spoke to special counsel Steve Fehr, the brother of union executive director Donald Fehr. They did not, however, discuss a possible return to the bargaining table.

The contract expires at midnight EDT on Saturday. Bettman has said the season won't start without a new deal. Training camps are to open Sept. 21, and the season is to begin 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."

The players turned out in force just a few blocks away at another midtown Manhattan hotel. Solidarity was evident, but optimism wasn't. 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.

"Right now it's not looking great," said Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who was just 17 when the last lockout ended, "but things can change pretty quickly."

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 after a two-hour owners' meeting 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 well into the fall and winter.

"One of the questions that needs to be asked is, if indeed they lock out, if indeed they do do that, (whether) that is reasonably calculated to make a deal more likely or less likely?" Donald Fehr said Thursday. "I think you can figure out the answer."

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 union offered a deal based on actual dollars, seeking a guarantee of the $1.8 billion players received last season.

"The fact is, we believe that 57 percent of HRR is too much," Bettman said. "Even a brief lockout will cost more in terms of lost salary and wages than what we're proposing to do to make a deal that we think we need to make."

The current contract was agreed to in 2005, and Bob Goodenow resigned as union head two weeks later. After stints by Ted Saskin and Paul Kelly, the union in 2010 turned to Fehr, who led baseball players through three work stoppages in the 1980s and '90s.

Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said Fehr is doing a far better job communicating with members than leadership did in the last lockout. The 30 league owners are prohibited by NHL bylaws from publicly commenting about negotiations.

"I doubt that all the owners are as well informed as all the players," Miller said. "I don't know if that's going to get me in trouble or not. I just feel like it's kind of whatever they are told by Gary. I guess it's a little bit like politics. ... You have this whole thing where I'm sure they feel like a lot of what we're saying is spin."

Players struck in April 1992, causing 30 games to be postponed.

This would be the third lockout under Bettman. The 1994-95 lockout ended after 103 days and the cancellation of 468 games. The most recent lockout was finally settled in July 2005 — 301 days into the work stoppage and a month after the league would usually have awarded the Stanley Cup.