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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"You get a real sense of the unity and the commitment and the participation and the understanding and the knowledge that these players have," Fehr said. "It's very gratifying.

"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."

Bettman said the union has controlled the scheduling of the meetings and suggested players had reasons for wanting to delay negotiations. The league tried to start talks last summer, at last winter's All-Star game, during the playoffs last spring and again at the Stanley Cup finals.

"It looks like there was no urgency on the part of the players' association to engage or get anything done," Bettman said. "It's happened over the summer. I can't and won't speculate as to why that would be their intention, but it is what it is. If you look at the record and you look at it in hindsight, I think it is crystal clear."

Annual industry revenue has grown from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion under the expiring deal. Owners asked players to cut their share of hockey related revenue during a six-year proposal. Players are concerned management hasn't addressed the league's problems by re-examining the teams' revenue-sharing formula.

The owners' latest offer raised the percentage of hockey-related revenue given to players from the previous proposal of 46 percent. Initially, the NHL sought to drop the number from the current 57 percent to 43 percent.

Having made several big concessions to make a deal in 2005, the union doesn't think it should have to make more this time after record financial growth.

"We believe that what we proposed is in the right direction," Crosby said Thursday. "If you look at both, they're definitely different, but if you have a nonbiased opinion, you look at the facts. I think our mindset and the direction we're going is one that seems like it's a little bit more fair for both sides."

Bettman cited the on-ice success for teams, noting there have been seven different champions over the course of this contract and all clubs but the Toronto Maple Leafs qualified for the playoffs at least once. The average player salary also jumped from $1.45 million to $2.55 million.

"We've had seven years of incredible competitive balance," Bettman said. "The game on the ice has never been better. That is a function of this system. The system as originally negotiated needs some adjustments. It turned out to be too rich a deal for the first seven years. We lived with it, but I'm not going to apologize for saying we need to adjust it.

"The thought was somehow they got slammed in the negotiations last time. They didn't. We made at the time what we thought was a fair deal. It actually turned out to be more fair than it should have been."

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AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen contributed to this report.

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