Bettman says full NHL season unrealistic
NEW YORK (AP) — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman still hasn't heard what he wants from the players' association, so he won't return to the bargaining table and he won't play a full hockey season.
With only one day remaining before the league's self-imposed deadline to reach a deal that would ensure an 82-game season, Bettman revealed Wednesday that he has given up hope of a complete slate of games.
"Unfortunately, it looks like an 82-game season is not going to be a reality," he said.
Speaking at a news conference Wednesday announcing the New York Islanders' move from Nassau Coliseum to Brooklyn's Barclays Center in 2015, Bettman seemed resigned to a shortened season with the NHL and the players' association still at odds after months of negotiations.
Instead of a celebration, a pall was cast over the event as the lockout approached its 40th day. The NHL is close to another announcement that games will be wiped off the schedule for good.
Bettman stated, in making the NHL's most recent offer, that a deal needed to be in place by Thursday for the season to begin Nov. 2 and be played in full. No negotiations are scheduled this week or anytime soon.
"The fact of the matter is there are just sometimes that you need to take time off because it's clear that you can't do anything to move the process forward," Bettman said. "We're at one of those points right now because we gave our very best offer. That offer, for better or for worse, was contingent on playing an 82-game season. So I think things actually in some respects may get more difficult."
The players' association reached out to the NHL on Tuesday night in an attempt to set up a face-to-face bargaining session Wednesday, but the league declined. The NHL's position is if the union isn't willing to talk about the league's offer that is on the table and isn't prepared to make a new proposal of its own working off that offer, there is no reason to talk.
"There seems to be no interest in making any sort of deal along the lines of what we have expressed a desire and a need for," Bettman said. "Sometimes in collective bargaining you have to take a deep breath before you can move forward."
The union wants anything and everything open for discussion. Bettman wouldn't agree to those terms, so the hockey season remains in peril.
"The players made multiple core-economic proposals on Thursday that were a significant move in the owners direction," union executive director Donald Fehr said in a statement on Wednesday night. "We are and continue to be ready to meet to discuss how to resolve our remaining differences, with no preconditions. For whatever reason, the owners are not. At the same time they are refusing to meet, they are winding the clock down to yet another artificial deadline they created."
A partial season is still a possibility, and the NHL hasn't called off any marquee events such as the outdoor Winter Classic on New Year's Day or the All-Star game.
That could change in a hurry.
"I'm not going to give you an exact timetable, but at some point in November we will have to commit many millions of dollars to get ready for the Winter Classic. So if there's still uncertainty, we're going to have to make a decision," Bettman said. "My guess is we're not going to commit those dollars unless we have certainty."
At some point a deal will have to be made to get the players back on the ice. The NHL canceled the entire 2004-05 season because of a lockout that led to the league adopting a salary cap system for the first time.
A shortened season is still the most likely scenario once the sides can get back to talking and working their way to an agreement.
"Sure, you can play an abbreviated season. I would rather play a full season, and I am sure our fans would rather we play a full season," Bettman said. "That's why we made the offer we did. That was our fourth offer against really one offer from the union in all the time that we've been negotiating from the summer. We very much want to play and we're very disappointed that we're not."
Following a conference call held by the union's executive board on Tuesday night, the players' association informed the NHL it was willing to meet on Wednesday "or any other date, without preconditions, to try to reach an agreement," the union said in a statement.
The NHL's response wasn't what the players' association had hoped to hear.
"We said to them that we are prepared to meet if you want to discuss our offer or you want to make a new offer," Bettman said. "They have no inclination in doing either, and so there really was no point in meeting at this point."
The sides haven't met since the league turned down three counterproposals from the union last Thursday, two days after the NHL's offer that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue.
There is a major divide between the sides over how to deal with existing player contracts. The union wants to ensure that those are all paid in full without affecting future player contracts.
Bettman refused to say whether the 50-50 split in the NHL's most recent offer would come off the table if a full season isn't played.
"I'm not going to negotiate publicly," he said.
This is the third lockout of Bettman's tenure. The stoppage began Sept. 16.