NEW YORK -- Commissioner Gary Bettman made the NHL's intent very clear Thursday, saying the league plans to lock the players out if a new collective bargaining agreement cannot be reached by Sept. 15, the date the current CBA is set to expire.
Bettman said this stance was reiterated to the NHL Players' Association during the day's bargaining session.
"I reconfirmed something that the union has been told multiple times over the last nine to 12 months, namely that the time is getting short and the owners are not prepared to operate under this collective bargaining agreement for another season, so we need to get to making a deal and doing it soon," Bettman said outside of the league's offices in midtown Manhattan. "And we believe there's ample time for the parties to get together and make a deal, and that's what we're going to be working toward."
The two sides, which have been engaged in labor talks for six weeks, face a significant divide on a number of issues and have only five weeks to broker a new deal.
"Our efforts are going to be devoted to making a deal, but as I said the owners are not going to operate under the economics of this collective bargaining agreement," Bettman said.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr has previously addressed the possibility of playing even while a deal is in negotiation, although that does not appear to be an option the league is willing to entertain.
"Under the law, if an agreement expires, that may give someone the legal ability to strike, or in this case to impose a lockout," Fehr said. "There's no requirement that they do so and if nobody does anything, you can continue to work under the old conditions."
Fehr returned to the negotiating table Thursday after spending the past week in Europe, briefing players overseas on the proceedings. With his return, the two sides dove back into the core economic issues.
The NHLPA made a presentation on the league's proposed new revenue-sharing system, voicing concerns that the players would bear the brunt of concessions with salary givebacks.
Although the PA did not present its alternative solution -- a counterproposal that will address this and other core economic issues is expected to be submitted Tuesday -- Fehr said the sides have a significant gap in their desired solutions.
"There is a meaningful gulf there," he said.
The alternative proposal that will be offered next week when the sides reconvene in Toronto will likely show a large divide in other areas as well, such as salary rollbacks, hockey-related revenue and the entry-level contract system.
With such polarizing topics and little common ground in meaningful areas, a lockout appears likely. The last NHL lockout was in 2004, when the league canceled the entire season.
Fehr talked about the PA's objection to NHL's proposed revenue-sharing system.
"The biggest reason was, it seems to us that both overall and on a club-by-club basis, all of the revenue-sharing payments -- both the new ones and the existing ones -- would be paid for by player salary reductions," he said.
Bettman offered a response.
"We start from the premise that the fundamental proposal, our initial proposal, relates to the fact that we need to be paying out less in player costs," he said. "That's something that while revenue sharing has been an important part of the existing collective bargaining agreement, we intend to have it going forward in an enhanced way. Revenue sharing isn't the key element. It's an element that has to be dealt with, but the fundamental economics need to be dealt with first."