Continued from page 1

“We did not make a proposal which mirrored the owners’ proposal,” Fehr said. “We did not say let’s go back to when we didn’t have a salary cap. We said, `Look, there is a meaningful disparity in revenue between the teams, and in recognition of that, there is a way we think we can fix the system so we don’t end up in the same problem all over again.

“If you look at what happened in all the cap sports … it doesn’t matter what the sport is, and it doesn’t matter what the claimed economics are, the proposal is always the same: it is always players will take a lot less money, and if not we will lock you out. It’s regrettable, but that is the world we seem to live in.”

The NHL has backed off its previous demand of a 24 percent cut on all existing contracts _ a key component of the deal that ended the season-long lockout in 2005 _ but the league is seeking cuts in other ways to make up for that.

“We’re not asking for a rollback,” Bettman said. “We have said that our proposal _ the one that is time-sensitive _ would have a phase-in, and while it contemplates the possible reduction in player share, if you use our estimates it would be under 10 percent. If you use the players’ association’s estimate on revenue growth, it would actually be 7 percent.

“When you factor all of that in, it seems to me that having a work stoppage and damaging (hockey-related revenue) long term really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

Fehr conceded that the phase-in does slow the rate the players would absorb cuts, but not in a significant manner.

“The phase-in in the first year would hit the players a little bit less than the full phase-in, it would reduce the share from 57 to 49 rather than from 57 to 47,” he said. “While it is accurate in a sense that the owners’ proposal does not take quite as much money from the players, somebody might say that they’ve moved from an extraordinary large amount to a really very big amount.”

As he has all along, Bettman insisted that the league will not operate the upcoming season under the current economic plan, and cited damage that will result from an impending lockout as the reason why the current offer won’t be viable after this weekend.

“What we would be prepared to do now to make a deal before there is extensive damage is not the same that we will be prepared to do in the event we get to a point where we have suffered the damage,” Bettman said. “We looked at their proposal. It was clear that there wasn’t very much movement at all.”

Elsewhere, the union filed an application with Quebec’s labor relations board, along with at least 16 Montreal Canadiens, asking it to declare a lockout illegal in the province. A hearing on the application is scheduled for Friday.

“The players don’t want to see hockey interrupted,” Fehr said. “We believe under Quebec law, a lockout would not be appropriate and would not be legal, so we are asserting that position. We would like to think that is consistent with the interests of the fans and eventually consistent with the interests of the owners.

“We’ll let the legal proceedings take care of themselves.”

What makes this week unusual _ in addition to the looming deadline _ is the number of players on hand. It will indeed be the offseason’s biggest show of force. Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, one of the league’s biggest stars, is one of them. He skated on Tuesday with some of his Penguins teammates in suburban Pittsburgh before traveling to New York.

“We’re not in position to make a judgment as to whether this is going to be productive. We have to wait and see,” Fehr said. “Every day is in some sense more important than the last one.

“You can only make a deal when people are ready to make a deal.”

Story Continues →