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NHL, players chug along toward a lockout

NEW YORK — With what he said was unanimous support from the owners, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reiterated Thursday that the league will lock out its players if a new labor deal isn't reached by midnight Saturday, and Penguins star Sidney Crosby said he wasn't optimistic the season would start on time.

Both sides returned to the microphones to make their cases after another day of meetings about a new collective bargaining agreement. A group of what the union said was 283 players met for a second day, and the board of governors gathered separately with Bettman for two hours.

No new proposals were made a day after the sides exchanged their latest ones, and no progress was reported by either side. The current deal expires at midnight Saturday.

The union says it is willing to play under the current deal while negotiations continue. Bettman says the league isn't and will lock out the players until a new deal is reached.

Training camps are due to open a week from today. The season is scheduled to start Oct. 11. No negotiating sessions are scheduled.

The sides remain far apart on the key issue, revenue sharing. Players currently receive 57 percent of hockey-related revenue; owners want to bring that down as far as perhaps 47 percent. The union has offered a deal based on actual dollars, seeking a guarantee of the $1.8 billion players received last season.

Annual revenue has grown from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion under the expiring deal. The league says it doesn't expect that kind of growth to continue. One of its financial concerns is that smaller markets are still financially stressed even with a salary cap in place. The players want some of their concessions to fund more revenue sharing among teams.

Following lockouts last year by the NBA and NFL, hockey management is determined to come away with economic gains, Bettman said, even if it forces the NHL's fourth work stoppage since 1992 and the third during his tenure.

"Two other leagues — the NBA and the NFL — their players have recognized that in these economic times, there is a need to retrench," Bettman said during a news conference that followed what he said was the unanimous endorsement of a lockout by the 30 owners.

The last labor stoppage caused the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, a lockout that ended only when players accepted a salary cap.

"(Bettman) loves his lockouts," Wild forward Zach Parise said.

Among the player complaints about the owners' proposal is that it offers nothing in return for concessions.

"Less money, fewer rights," union chief Donald Fehr said, the "rights" referring to the owners' proposals to put limits on contract lengths and lengthen the service time required before players can become unrestricted free agents.

Crosby said players just want to play, but not at any cost.

"I think you also have to realize that there's principles here, and you have to understand what's right," he said. "And I think we believe that what we propose … seems like it's a little bit more fair for both sides."

LIGHTNING FAN RALLY: A Lightning fan from Seffner is organizing a protest against a lockout. The protest is set for noon-3 Saturday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. "Fans care," said Jason Tregler, 39, a season ticket holder since 1996. "We want our voices heard. We don't want to lose hockey again." Tregler, who said he regards Bettman as the villainy, hopes a couple of hundred people show up.

Times staff writer Damian Cristodero contributed to this report.

NHL, players chug along toward a lockout 09/13/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 13, 2012 9:45pm]
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