NEW YORK — The rhetoric is rising, while the time before the planned start of the NHL regular season is running out.
And now it seems more likely than not that regular-season games will be canceled before the league and the players’ association even get back to the negotiating table.
The sides broke off talks Tuesday after just two hours, and it was hard to find optimism anywhere that the season would avoid a major disruption — just seven years after a full season was lost to a lockout.
“Not prepared to speculate on next steps at this point,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press in an email on Wednesday. “Obviously, we’ve been saying for over a month now that we would welcome a new proposal from the Players’ Association. That continues to be our position.
“(It’s) not a constructive position to say, ‘Here’s our first offer. We think it’s really good. Call us back when you are ready to accept it.’ That’s what the union has effectively done here.”
Daly also said on Wednesday that the NHL has no timetable when it will start calling off regular-season games.
The season is slated to open on Oct. 11. But with training camps on hold and all preseason games already canceled, it is hard to imagine the NHL can stick to that schedule if a deal with the players’ association isn’t reached in the next day or two.
With no new negotiations scheduled, that seems to be nearly impossible.
“Unfortunately, the NHL’s negotiation strategy was to lock out the players as a strategy of first resort,” NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr told the AP on Wednesday in an email. “After massive player concessions during the last round of CBA negotiations, followed by seven years of record NHL revenues, the league is once again seeking enormous reductions in players’ salaries, along wit h significant changes which would limit individual player rights.
“The players have made multiple proposals that are favorable to the owners. The owners have not made a single proposal which would give the players anything meaningful. In fact, for much of September the owners did not even want to meet unless it was on their terms.”
When the sides got together on Tuesday, for the fourth time in five days, they again focused their talks on secondary issues and not the core economics that have the NHL and the union at odds.
With little to actually discuss, the meeting broke up relatively quickly and left both groups frustrated.
Daly said the league has already lost $100 million in revenues from lost preseason games. The sides are fighting about how to divide up over $3 billion in hockey-related revenues. Players received 57 percent of that pot in the previous collective bargaining agreement, and the NHL wants that number to drop under 50 percent in the new deal.
Players have offered to take a smaller cut as long as there is more revenue sharing between the richer and poorer franchises.
When Daly left the latest negotiating session, he said it “was not overly encouraging.”
“We are closer by definition (to canceling regular season games),” he added. “We are focused on minimizing the damage.”
Players’ Association Executive Director Donald Fehr contends that the union has made proposals that move closer to the NHL’s position, and that the league has moved further away from the players.
Steve Fehr disputed Daly’s assessment that progress wasn’t made on Tuesday.
“Talks can resume anytime they’re ready,” he said.