NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says it looks as if a full-82 game schedule "is not going to be a reality," as the lockout nears its seventh week.
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 looking at a shortened season with the NHL and the players' association still at odds after months of negotiations.
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 allow for each team to play a full 82-game slate. With no negotiations scheduled, reaching a deal in one day appears very unlikely.
"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 riffing 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 emailed to The Associated Press 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.
But at some point a deal will have to be made to get the players back on the ice.
"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.
"The league is apparently unwilling to meet," NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said in a statement Tuesday. "That is unfortunate, as it is hard to make progress without talking."
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.