Executive Director of the NHLPA, Donald Fehr surrounded by NHL players talks to the media about the NHL meetings Thursday October 18, 2012 in Toronto.
Credits: CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI AGENCY
A full 82-game schedule hangs in the balance after the NHL Players' Association outright rejected a proposal by owners for a 50-50 split in revenues Thursday and gave a counter-offer the NHL didn't think was worth a second look.
With an Oct. 25 deadline looming to get a labour deal to allow a full season starting Nov. 2, a source said the next move by the NHL could be to cancel "a large chunk" of games to send a message to the players.
Bettman sounded like a defeated man when he emerged from the union's office only one hour after meeting with NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who was backed by 18 players -- including Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby.
"We gave it our best shot," Bettman said. "It is our best offer. We gave the (players) what we had to give.
"We indicated we're prepared to have discussions. We're willing to make tweaks or adjustments.
"But, this is a deal we believe the league needs (in order to start the season). We believe it's fair to the players. We hope we can continue to grow the game. The longer this goes, particularly with not being able to have an 82-game season, the damage may make it even more difficult, as time goes on, to make a deal. I am, to say the least, thoroughly disappointed."
Bettman was extremely upset the players didn't even bother to respond to the offer the NHL tabled Tuesday that included a significant 50-50 revenue split. Instead, Fehr and the players worked off a proposal they made in the summer.
A league source said the players worked their way to a 50-50 split in all three proposals but none included any guarantees, which is why it took a grand total of 15 minutes to dismiss them.
"It's clear that we're not speaking the same language with what they came back to us with," Bettman said. "It is still my hope that we can accomplish my goal, the league's goal, of getting an 82-game season, but I am concerned based on the proposal that was made (Thursday).
"Things are not progressing. To the contrary, I view the proposal that was made by the (players) in many ways a step backward. The proposal that we made at 50-50 ... was the best we could do."
So, what's next? The two sides will step back and have no plans to meet. Although they're willing to speak anytime, QMI Agency pointed out to Bettman they don't have anything to talk about.
"The next step is hopefully we'll hear back (from the players) but I don't know what the next step is. I'm obviously very discouraged," Bettman said. "Based on where we are today, we're always happy to talk.
"But, as you see, despite what we did on Tuesday, we were done in an hour today because there was really nothing there."
League sources say an inability to come to an agreement has put the full season in peril, while the Winter Classic and NHL all-star game are in doubt. There is talk as much as two months of the schedule soon could be chopped.
Do the players understand the impact of their outright dismissal of the offer made Tuesday?
"I'm not in the mode of either trying to threaten or lecture the players," Bettman said. "I believe they're being represented by people who are advising them, I assume, of what the challenges are when you're in this situation.
"Anybody who follows this game understands what's at stake and the dynamic that is in play. I don't know the time-frame. I was focused on (Thursday's meeting), but as the calendar ticks away we're going to do some more cancellations."
Both sides will enter a cooling-off period. Fans had better hope that it doesn't become a deep freeze that results in months without talks and a cancelled season. That possibility surely exists.
"I wish I had better news," Bettman said.
The news could only get worse.