- Associated Press - Thursday, August 16, 2012

TORONTO — The first truly tense moments of the NHL’s collective bargaining negotiations have arrived.

With NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players’ Association head Donald Fehr not scheduled to sit across from one another until the middle of next week and the sides unable to even agree on the core issues that need to be addressed, a sense of uneasiness has suddenly enveloped the talks.

After Wednesday’s session, in which the NHL dismissed the union’s initial proposal, Fehr set off for pre-scheduled player meetings in Chicago. The union boss also will oversee a session with players in Kelowna, British Columbia, before returning to Toronto to reset CBA discussions Aug. 22.

At that point, the league and the NHL Players’ Association will have just 24 days left to reach an agreement and avoid a lockout. The current CBA runs out Sept. 15. The regular season is slated to begin Oct. 11.

Where do they go from here? There is very little common ground between the proposals each side has put forth, and neither seems particularly willing to move off its current position.

“What the issues are and how they get solved and how deep the issues go are something that we’re not yet on the same page,” Bettman said Wednesday.

In simple terms, the owners want to pay players less — much less. Despite the fact the NHL’s revenues grew from $2.2 billion before the 2004-05 lockout to $3.3 billion last season, a number of teams still are struggling. The financial success of the wealthiest franchises over the past seven years ended up hurting the poorer ones.

The NHLPA estimated the league’s proposal would cost players approximately $450 million per season.

Both sides are starting to see the writing on the wall.

On Thursday, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland canceled the team’s annual prospects tournament in which seven other teams were slated to play in: Buffalo, Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, the New York Rangers and St. Louis.

After talks wrapped up Wednesday, Fehr hinted the NHL was working from a “playbook” that involves using the lockout as a negotiating tactic and called for the owners to present an offer that moved in the players’ direction.

Bettman, meanwhile, seemed to suggest that this wasn’t a good time for Fehr to step away from talks and hold regional player meetings.