NEW YORK -- The NHL Players' Association made a proposal Thursday it feels should lead to a quick resolution of the NHL lockout. Executive director Don Fehr said the sides were close.
But the owners not only rejected that proposal, they pulled key elements off the table -- the concept of so-called "make-whole" payments, which were intended to cushion the blow to current contracts as the players' share of revenue dropped from 57 to 50, plus everything they added this week in an effort to reach a deal. Commissioner Gary Bettman said it was unfair for the PA to spin everyone into an "emotional frenzy." Deputy Bill Daly said the union was "cherry picking."
In short: kaboom.
Labor talks blew up, and no one knows what happens next. The owners also told the players there was no reason to meet Thursday night or Friday. Bettman said the owners needed to take a breath.
Fehr said the players offered "a clear outline to end this dispute" when a group of them met with Daly and league lawyer Bob Batterman. Bettman did not attend. Neither did any owners.
But Bettman said the union's proposal ignored essential elements the owners had outlined. Daly said this was a package deal and the union ignored how everything tied together.
"It's easy to say keep negotiating," Bettman said. "At some point, you have to be in a position to say, 'This is what we need.' "
Bettman declined to give a drop-dead date, but he saiid the NHL would cancel the season when the integrity of the game was compromised. The league settled a lockout on Jan. 11, 1995, and played a 48-game season. He said he couldn't imagine playing fewer games than that.
"We are where we are, as horrible as it is," Bettman said.
Fehr said the sides had agreed on money. The league's last make-whole proposal was $300 million. That was tied to a 10-year agreement with an opt-out after Year 8, however. The players proposed an eight-year deal with an opt out after Year 6.
The players proposed eight years for max length of contracts; the owners had proposed five, or seven if a team re-signed its own player. The players proposed existing contract rules to handle back-diving cap-circumventing contracts, while the lowest year could not be 25 percent lower than the highest year, while the owners proposed salaries could not vary more than five percent from year to year.
Fehr said the players hoped they had agreed to a pension plan, paid for by the players, and the sides needed to discuss transition rules to go from the last agreement to the new one. He said he hoped this would put the sides "on the road to a quick resolution."
"The players have gone a very, very long way," Fehr said. "The players have done far and away the lion's share."
But Daly left NHLPA outside counsel Steve Fehr a voicemail saying the owners had rejected the agreement. Fehr said the players would talk internally and discuss their next step. He declined to discuss dissolution of the union, other than to say it was an option. Bettman said the board of governors was briefed on that possibility Wednesday and that the league doesn't think it would have the impact others do.
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