Just as all signs pointed to an agreement between the NHL and its players union, talks broke down again Thursday evening.
After two days of productive meetings this week, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said the league has rejected its latest counterproposal and no further talks are planned.
Fehr said after one hour of talks the league balked at the union's proposal for an eight-year collective bargaining agreement with an opt-out after six years. The owners wanted a 10-year contract, with the ability to opt out after eight seasons.
He didn't expect the 82-day lockout to be end soon.
Fehr said the union has "responded comprehensively" during the past two days of talks that purposely left out the key leaders of both sides. He said player pensions and transition payments were other roadblocks.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the NHL has pulled the "Make Whole" contract provision off the table.
ESPN.com reported the union now may seek decertification.
Thursday's talks included few members of the players and owners groups that had carved out labor progress the past two days. Enough movement was made that some outlets were reporting that the sides had discussed how to salvage a 56-game season.
Earlier Thursday, the NHLPA had requested the return of federal mediators in the hopes of speeding up a deal. The NHL was not interested in bringing them back.
Representatives from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services met with the two sides for several hours last week, but couldn't move the process forward.
"We obviously had a number of meetings (Wednesday) over many hours," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told NHL.com after Thursday's meeting. "Had good candid dialogue on a lot of issues. There continue to be some critical open issues between the two parties and we understand the union should be getting back to us (Thursday) on some of those issues."
Three months of negotiations led to owners dropping requests for changes to free agency and arbitration, and upping their make-whole provision offer to $300 million.
The NHLPA agreed to a 50-50 revenue split in hockey-related revenue in their most recent offer, a concession from the previous collective bargaining agreement which gave players 57 percent. Getting to 50-50 was the owners' primary objective.
Owners have maintained their request to cap free-agent contracts at five years, but have allowed for teams to sign their own players for up to seven years. They have also kept their demand for a 5 percent maximum year-to-year swing on multiyear contract salaries. Owners wanted this change to end the business of adding low salary years at the end of contracts to decrease the average salary amount for cap purposes.
The lockout has resulted in 2 1/2-months without games as well as cancellations of the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio.