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NHL Rejects Players’ Offer, Labor Talks on Hold

NEW YORK (AP) — Instead of closing in on a deal, the NHL and the players’ association are further apart than ever before.

Union executive director Donald Fehr began the first of his two news conferences Thursday night by proclaiming he believed the sides had agreements on such issues as actual dollars, and then returned moments later to reveal the NHL rejected everything his side offered.

Hot-button topics such as the “make-whole” provision on existing contracts not only weren’t settled, but are no longer being offered by the league. Forget that owners were willing to pay up to $300 million to cover the costs, now Commissioner Gary Bettman is saying the entire concept is off the table — along with everything else the league proposed during the previous two days of talks.

“They knew there was a major gulf between us and yet they came down here and told you we were close,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

Fehr vehemently disputed that assessment and stuck to his opinion that the sides really aren’t far apart, saying they are “clearly very close if not on top of one another.”

When the NHL agreed to increase its make-whole offer of deferred payments from $211 million to $300 million it was part of a proposed package that required the union to agree on three nonnegotiable points. Instead, the players’ association accepted the raise in funds, but then made counterproposals on the issues the league stated had no wiggle room.

That ended Thursday’s delayed meeting after just an hour and sent the NHL negotiating team back to the league office.

“I am disappointed beyond belief,” Bettman said. “We’re going to take a deep breath and look back at where we are and what needs to be accomplished.”

The sides won’t meet again before Saturday at the earliest. While Bettman insisted that a drop-dead date for a deal that would preserve a season with “integrity” hasn’t been established — even internally — clearly there isn’t a lot of time to work out an agreement.

“I’m surprised,” Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby said. “We feel like we moved in their direction.”

The 2004-05 season was lost completely before the players’ association accepted a deal that included a salary cap for the first time. While no major philosophical issues such as that exist in these negotiations, the sides still don’t appear to be ready to come to an agreement.

“It looks like this is not going to be resolved in the immediate future,” Fehr said.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press


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