NEW YORK (AP) - NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman maintains the league will lock out players Sunday if a new labor deal isn’t reached, and star player Sidney Crosby isn’t optimistic the season will start on time.
With both sides far apart and little time before the current deal expires at midnight EDT Saturday, the league’s board of governors met in New York on Thursday as a group of more than 280 players gathered at a hotel a short distance away.
Following lockouts last year by basketball and football owners, Bettman says hockey management is determined to come away with economic gains, even if it forces the NHL’s fourth work stoppage since 1992.
“Two other leagues _ the NBA and the NFL _ their players have recognized that in these economic times there is a need to retrench,” Bettman said during a news conference that followed the unanimous endorsement of a lockout during a two-hour owners’ meeting.
The last labor stoppage caused the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season, a lockout that ended only when players accepted a salary cap.
“Right now it’s not looking great,” said Crosby, a Pittsburgh Penguins star who was just 16 when the last lockout began, “but things can change pretty quickly.”
Training camps are scheduled to open Sept. 21 and the season is slated to start Oct. 11.
Management’s latest offer, made Wednesday in response to a players’ proposal, will be in effect until Saturday. Once the lockout begins, Bettman says the economic damage would cause owners to offer players a less beneficial deal. No talks were held Thursday and none were scheduled.
Players currently receive 57 percent of hockey-related revenue, and the owners want to bring that number down as far as perhaps 47 percent. The union offered a deal based on actual dollars, seeking a guarantee of the $1.8 billion players received last season.
“The fact is, we believe that 57 percent of HRR is too much,” Bettman said. “Even a brief lockout will cost more in terms of lost salary and wages than what we’re proposing to do to make a deal that we think we need to make.”
After the current contract was agreed to in July 2005, then union head Bob Goodenow resigned two weeks later. He was replaced in 2010 by Fehr, who led baseball players through three work stoppages in the 1980s and `90s.
Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said Fehr is doing a far better job communicating with members than leadership did in the last lockout. Miller believes that he and his fellow players are more in the loop about what is going on than the 30 league owners, who are prohibited by NHL bylaws from publicly commenting about the negotiation process.
“I doubt that all the owners are as well informed as all the players,” Miller said. “I don’t know if that’s going to get me in trouble or not. I just feel like it’s kind of whatever they are told by Gary. I guess it’s a little bit like politics. Some people can’t watch Fox News because they think it’s all spun to the right, and some people can’t watch MSNBC because it’s spun to the left.
“You have this whole thing where I’m sure they feel like a lot of what we’re saying is spin.”