NEW YORK -- The tale of the tape for the two pep rallies weren't much different.
At one Times Square hotel, hockey superstar Sidney Crosby and the rest of the players threw their full support behind their NHLPA leadership group and its stance in negotiations so far.
Three blocks away at another hotel, NHL owners unanimously supported commissioner Gary Bettman and his negotiating team to impose a lockout if a new collective agreement can't be reached when the current one expires on Saturday night at midnight ET.
Unless there is some late-game dramatics, a third NHL lockout in 18 years is inevitable. But what appears different compared to seven years ago, when Bettman cancelled the entire season, has been the players' solidarity.
While owners have to zip their lips when asked about the CBA state of affairs, as per NHL bylaw 17-7, several of the 283 players who attended two days of meetings didn't shy away from voicing their opinions and their admiration for NHLPA boss Donald Fehr.
"Leaving this room after two days of saying to each other what would you really take, what are you willing to miss a paycheque for, after countless hours of that discussion, everyone looks at our proposal and says, 'How can that not be what we take?'" Calgary Flames forward Michael Cammalleri said. "What are we willing to do here? Where does it end?
"If we take their proposal, the next time around, they're still going to have the same excuses," he added. "It doesn't fix anything, it doesn't address any of the problems they said we know would make the league healthier.
"They're going to come to us with the same issues. Of course, they don't want to fix those problems because they want to be able to this to us again next time."
The two sides can't find a way to divide the $3.3-billion US in hockey-related revenues (HRR). In its latest five-year proposal, the NHLPA offered to drop its percentage of HRR from 57 per cent to roughly 54 per cent based on projections of 7.1 per cent revenue growth -- the average since the last lockout -- to more than 52 per cent.
The owners countered with a six-year deal that called for the players to take 49 per cent in the first year, 48 in the second and 47 in each of the final four seasons.
'Doesn't seem like a fair deal'
The NHLPA remains miffed that the owners want them to take another significant pay cut and refuse to alter the revenue-sharing system to help out the weak market clubs.
"There's been a lot of good things come from that partnership," said Calgary captain Jarome Iginla, who was referring to the deal struck in 2005.
"Now that revenues have been exceeded, they [the owners] come back and they say we still have problems. We say, as players, 'Okay, we're partners, let's share those problems.'
"We'll kick some back. You guys share from the top teams. They want us to take salary reductions, but the top teams will make even more money. It just doesn't seem like a fair deal. They're changing their tune with us players who have been through it before.
"You've got to draw a line. They'll just keep asking for more. It's not about sympathy. We want to get the game going.
"We know the game is in a good place. The fans have supported the game. We don't want to miss games. We don't want a month or two or three of sitting out.
"We're trying to get this deal done and be fair. We've given back. I think we've given back a lot."
'Make more owners read the facts'
Outspoken Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller had an idea to get a deal done.
"Make more owners read the facts that are coming out of our camp," he said. "I doubt that all the owners are as well informed as the players.
"I don't know if that's going to get me in trouble or not. But I just feel it's whatever they're told by Gary."
All in all, because the two sides remain separated by a wide gulf on salaries and haven't even bothered to negotiate off each other's proposals, even the usual optimistic Crosby doesn't see much hope.
"Right now, it's not looking great," he said. "It's tough.
"As a player, you just want to be play. This is not what we want to be doing in this part of the year."
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