NHL lockout talks break off again with frustration

NEW YORK (AP) - NHL labor talks broke off soon after they resumed Wednesday, with players maintaining their new proposal was a huge economic concession and Commissioner Gary Bettman pretty much saying the only deal he will agree to is the one management proposed last month.

On the 67th day of a lockout that already has wiped out more than a quarter of the regular season, the sides headed home for Thanksgiving with no end in sight to the sport’s fourth work stoppage. The union’s negotiating committee planned to brief players and get back in touch with management on Friday.

“When you’re dealing with a union that really isn’t trying to negotiate, make any deal that we can live with for the long-term health of this game, there isn’t much else you can do,” Bettman said outside the league’s Manhattan office when questioned by a fan, 41-year-old Jaymes Hall of Lancaster, Pa. “And we’re hoping that with the passage of time, the players’ association will come to realize that what we have proposed has been more than fair. And the fact that we’re keeping this proposal on the table, when it was contingent on an 82-game season, should be evidence of our desire to get this done the right way.”

Informed of Bettman’s comments, union head Donald Fehr said “My response is they seem to consider negotiating to be merely agreeing with them.”

“We’ve identified what’s important to players, but they seem to be so far at least unwilling to treat those concerns in a serious way,” Fehr said in a telephone interview.

Players made what both sides called a comprehensive proposal. Fehr said the sides were $182 million apart in a five-year deal, which comes to $1.2 million annually for each of the 30 teams.

“On the big things there was as of today no reciprocity in any meaningful sense, no movement on the players’ share, no movement on salary-arbitration eligibility, no movement on free agency eligibility, no agreement on a pension plan,” Fehr said as he left the talks.

Management wants to increase eligibility for free agency to 28 years of age or eight seasons of NHL service, up from 27 or 7.

Management also proposed Wednesday adding a year of service for salary arbitration eligibility, hiking it from 1-4 to 2-5 years of service, depending on the age a player signs, a person familiar with the bargaining said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because that detail wasn’t announced.

“There seems to be a lot of spinning and gamesmanship going on,” Bettman said.

Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey, among nine players at the bargaining, said the union was “disappointed with the response.”

“There was no meaningful move in our direction on anything that we would consider,” he said.

Fehr nearly said players found the day’s two bargaining sessions, which totaled 2 1/2 hours, to be a waste of time.

“A lot of the people that were there today, given the response we got, thought they had a lot better things to do on the night before Thanksgiving than hear what we got,” he said.

The NHL on Oct. 16 proposed a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue, down from the players’ 57 percent portion of $3.3 billion last season. With guaranteed contracts likely to push the players’ share over the halfway mark at the start of the next deal, management wants that money to come out of future years to bring the overall percentage down to an even split over the length of an agreement.

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