NEW YORK - The message from Donald Fehr was loud and clear, even though the microphone the NHLPA executive director was to employ to address reporters for a second time on Wednesday went wonky.
Unless there is a dramatic turn of events later this week, all signs indicate the NHL will lock out its players for the third time in the past 18 years on Saturday.
The current collective agreement is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. ET on Saturday, but the only positive development with three days to go was that the two sides exchanged proposals on Wednesday. There still remains a wide gulf on what the NHLPA and NHL desire in a new deal, and time is running out.
Fehr and eight players visited NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on his turf in Manhattan for close to three hours after two weeks of relative inactivity between the two sides. The NHLPA made a five-year proposal - up from four - that called for less of a share of growth revenue, but there was no willingness from the players to decrease the $1.87 billion US in earned in total salaries in 2011-12.
The NHL then stepped away to prepare a counter-proposal, which Bettman described as "significant. But its latest salvo continued to ask for players to substantially reduce their salaries, and as a result, the offer did not sit well with the NHLPA.
While Bettman conceded that his side was willing to negotiate off its latest proposal, the commissioner gave the NHLPA a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum. This offer from the NHL will come off the table by Saturday's deadline.
The NHL's counter-proposal on Wednesday afternoon included:
"We are willing to limit future increases," Fehr said. "They want us to rollback salaries."
The NHL also continues to dismiss the NHLPA's call for the league to incorporate more revenue sharing to help out the weaker-market teams.
So where does this leave the talks with Saturday's deadline fast approaching? Fehr met with close to 300 players at a Times Square hotel on Wednesday evening and will finish up his information and question session with them in the morning. Bettman will convene with the league's board of governors on Thursday afternoon a few blocks away.
Both sides hoped there would be further sessions together the rest of the week, but because neither the NHL nor the NHLPA has been negotiating off each other's proposals there is little hope a new collective agreement could come together swiftly.
Fehr continued the NHLPA's line that they are willing to start training camps on Sept. 21 and the season on Oct. 11 without a deal in the hopes that a new CBA could be agreed upon during the season. But Bettman has stated that if there is no deal by Saturday, the players will be locked out.
Meanwhile, some of the European-born players have lined up roster spots in their countries and could play for these teams as earlier as Sunday. Some North Americans, like Sidney Crosby, also have expressed interest in playing in Europe and likely won't be far behind.
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