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Bettman rejects proposal; counteroffer turned down

TORONTO -- The NHL moved a step closer to losing the season
Tuesday, when the league and players' association rejected
proposals for a new collective bargaining agreement.


The second negotiating session in a week lasted 3½ hours. The
league turned down the players' association offer from last
Thursday and presented a salary cap-based counterproposal for an
hour. The union then held its own discussions for 2½ hours before
rejecting the offer and ending the meeting that came on the 90th
day of the lockout.

No new meetings have been scheduled, making it quite possible
that the NHL will become the first North American sports league to
cancel a full season because of a labor dispute.

The major difference between the sides remains the salary-cap
roadblock. The NHL wants a cap to achieve what it calls cost
certainty. The players' association says it will never accept that.

Asked about the prospects of having a season, Ottawa forward
Daniel Alfredsson said: "If they stand by their salary cap, the
chances are none."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged the league is after a
cap.

"My hope is that the union leadership recognizes that the
owners' resolve is great," Bettman said. "We only know of really
one approach to meaningfully address and fix our problems. And
unless somebody can miraculously come up with another approach,
which I am highly skeptical of but always [eager] to listen, we're
committed to fixing this the right way."

There might be a month left to salvage the season, but the sides
seem too far apart on the philosophical difference of a cap. The
last NHL lockout ended with a deal on Jan. 11, 1995, allowing for a
48-game season.

This lockout has already forced the cancelation of 414
regular-season games and the 2005 All-Star Game.

"As I've said all along, it's about getting the right deal,"
Bettman said. "I would hope at some point it gets to where it's
relevant. If not, we'll start up whenever we have a new deal.

"We haven't focused on what a semblance of a season would be."

The league proposal contained a cap, which, based on last year's
economics, would see team player costs range between $38.6 million
and $34.6 million.

The NHL also revamped the players' association rollback offer,
proposing a graduated scale. Players making less than $800,000
would not have their salary decreased. Those making $5 million or
more would have 35 percent taken away from their existing
contracts.

Bettman said the offer made by the union last Thursday, which
featured a 24-percent salary rollback, was a "big-time,
significant and meaningful move" but was a short-term fix that
wouldn't cure the league's financial troubles in the long run.

"In short, the league took what they liked from our proposal,
made major changes and slapped a salary cap on top of it," union
head Bob Goodenow said. "Put simply, our proposal provides the
basis for a negotiated agreement. The NHL's does not."

The union's offer also contained a luxury tax, a revenue sharing
plan, a lower cap on entry-level contracts and bonuses, and a way
for teams to take players to arbitration.

But because it doesn't guarantee what each team will pay its
players, it didn't meet the solution the owners are seeking.

"We have no interest in a luxury tax at any level at any
threshold," Bettman said.

The Canadian sports television network TSN reported Monday that
NHL executive vice president Bill Daly sent a memo to team owners
that said the league would turn down the union's offer.

Bettman has placed a gag order on team executives, and has
already handed out significant fines to those who speak out. Steve
Belkin, one of the Atlanta Thrashers' owners, was ordered to pay
$250,000 for saying the league would use replacement players next
year if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached.

The punishment will be much harsher if the source of the leaked
memo is revealed.

"If I find out, there won't be much reason for you to be
talking to them because their career in the NHL will end
abruptly," Bettman said. "I think it's about the most
irresponsible thing that could be done. I would really like to know
who did it."

The NHL hadn't given the players' association an offer since
July 21, when it presented six possible concepts to provide a
framework for the league's first new collective bargaining
agreement in a decade.

All six were formally rejected by the players on Aug. 17, and
negotiations that followed over the next month failed to move the
sides any closer to resolving the philosophical difference of a
salary cap.

Talks broke off Sept. 9 when owners turned down an offer, and
the lockout was imposed a week later by Bettman. Players and owners
stayed apart from early September until last Thursday.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin offered federal intervention
on Tuesday, but both sides have said they don't need an outside
mediator to get involved.