Lockout looming after NHL labor talks break off

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NEW YORK — NHL labor negotiations are at a standstill after talks broke off on Friday, significantly raising concerns the league is two weeks away from its fourth labor dispute in 20 years.

Negotiations that were scheduled to resume in New York next week are now in limbo after NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr announced that the league had asked that talks be “recessed.”

The latest development came after the union presented its latest proposal during negotiations at the NHL headquarters in New York. The league has threatened to lock out its players once the current collective bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 15.

“Unfortunately, so far at least,” Fehr said, “that proposal we made today did not bear fruit.”

For the first time since talks began in late June, NHL officials began expressing concern as to whether a deal can be reached to avoid a disruption of training camps.

“I think that today was clearly a setback,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “It’s going to be tough to get something done in time to open camps unless or until the union changes its position and indicated a willingness to move off of its current proposal, which it was clearly not prepared to do today.”

Daly added: “Hopefully, the union and the players will re-evaluate where we are, and where they are willing to go in the coming days.”

The regular season is set to open Oct. 11, but that is now uncertain given the tenor or negotiations.

The NHL has already had three labor disputes since April 1, 1992, when players held a 10-day strike which forced 30 games to be rescheduled. The most memorable and disruptive breakdown in labor talks came during the last negotiations, which led to the entire 2004-05 season being wiped out.

The NHLPA’s latest offer came three days after the NHL made its first counterproposal on Tuesday. After asking the players to cut their share of hockey revenue from 57 to 43 percent, the NHL upped its proposal to have the players get a 46 percent share over a six-year deal.

The union revised its initial offer by proposing to restructure the fourth and final year of its initial offer. The NHLPA was willing to give back between $465 million and $800 million in revenue over the first three years of the deal so long as the system switched back to the existing agreement in the fourth year.

Fehr has now countered by proposing “several concepts” in which the players would get less than 57 percent of revenues in the fourth and final year. The NHLPA, however, is still asking NHL owners to establish a revenue sharing program to help struggling teams.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called revenue sharing “a distraction” and questioned whether the union made an actual counterproposal or a mere response to the league’s presentation.

“Basically, they stood by their initial deal,” Bettman said. “They didn’t make an offer. … (They) weren’t prepared to discuss core economics.”

As for further talks, Bettman said he didn’t see a need to continue negotiations until new ideas can be brought to the table.

“There’s nothing scheduled because there’s nothing that we’re prepared to say in light of the fact there was really no substantive movement on the economics,” Bettman said. “In effect, (talks) got stonewalled today.”

This is not the turn in negotiations the commissioner was hoping for, especially after the NHL altered its proposal this week.

“What I thought was a promising week ended with disappointment,” Bettman said.

Fehr disagreed, by saying the players did make concessions.

“What the players did was … make a very forthcoming proposal to the owners in an effort to find an agreement,” Fehr said. “It’s not a modification of a proposal.”

The NHLPA is planning to remain in New York for the next two weeks should the NHL be willing to reopen talks. The union has also scheduled an executive board meeting in New York for Sept. 12-13.

The union has questioned the NHL as to why it is attempting to have players bear much of the burden of cost savings, especially after the league reported record revenues topping $3.1 billion last season.

Aside from asking the players to take an across-the-board cut in their share of revenues, the NHL is also seeking to place severe limits on free agency while also abolishing players’ rights to salary arbitration.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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