- Associated Press - Thursday, September 13, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - After a one-day return to the negotiating table, NHL players and owners hope meetings within their own ranks with two new proposals in hand will help provide a breakthrough ahead of the looming lockout.

The NHL Players’ Association delivered a new offer on Wednesday at the league’s office and then received a counterproposal from Commissioner Gary Bettman that was hastily drawn up when he wasn’t impressed with what he was given.

If the sides can’t reach a deal by Saturday night, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires, the owners’ latest offer will be pulled back, and Bettman will call for a second lockout in eight years. The last one wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.

“There’s no work that’s supposed to be performed on Sunday or Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday,” NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said. “We treat the deadline as real. They’ve said it’s real, and I’m prepared to take Gary at his word about that. No reason not to.

“I would just remind everybody that a lockout is a choice. It doesn’t have to be made.”

About 275 NHL players descended on New York for a union meeting that began Wednesday night and was expected to finish on Thursday afternoon. The NHL Board of Governors also will meet in New York on Thursday, but Bettman said nothing dramatic is expected to take place.

Bettman said he already has the authority to call for a lockout as soon as the current agreement expires at the end of Sept. 15.

Industry revenue has grown from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion annually under the expiring deal. Owners asked players to cut their share of hockey related revenue during a six-year proposal. Players are concerned management hasn’t addressed the league’s problems by re-examining the teams’ revenue-sharing format.

Though the NHL and its players now agree on what qualifies as hockey-related revenue, they still haven’t figured out how to split the money the sport generates.

The owners’ streamlined counteroffer kept the same definition of what makes up hockey related revenue, and raised the percentage given to players from the previous proposal of 46 percent. Initially, the NHL sought to drop the number from the current 57 percent to 43 percent.

“That’s good,” Philadelphia Flyers forward Danny Briere said of the agreed-upon definition, “but let’s wait and see if there’s not other tricks hidden in there.”

After the players made their offer Wednesday, Bettman met with Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, and Murray Edwards of the Calgary Flames to craft a new NHL offer that was handed back to the players’ association with a shelf life on it.

“What we tried to do was simplify the process,” Bettman said. “It was clear that we weren’t on the same page or talking the same language, so our proposal was an attempt to simplify what we were negotiating over and do it while making additional movement in the hopes that that could spur meaningful negotiations before the weekend.”

This was the first formal negotiating session since Aug. 31. No new meetings were immediately scheduled, but both sides expected to talk again no later than Thursday after their respective internal meetings.

Fehr said the union’s new proposal was “consistent” with the last one it submitted. The league responded with a counter, and Fehr, despite the developments, admitted he does not “know whether this will lead to anything.”

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