NHL imposes league-wide lockout

NEW YORK -- What has been written on the wall for months is now official. The NHL has imposed a league-wide lockout, the sport's second work stoppage in eight years.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman warned the players throughout this past year -- more aggressively during the labor negotiations during the past two months -- that the league intended to lock out the players if a new deal wasn't reached by midnight Saturday, when the collective bargaining agreement expired.

That deadline came and passed with little discussion and a lack of substantive talks in the waning 48-hour window to reach an agreement.

The two sides remain far apart on the core economic issues of a new deal.

The NHL Players' Association said the union wanted to continue talks with the league Saturday, but was rebuffed.

"Today, we suggested that the parties meet in advance of the owners'
self-imposed deadline of midnight tonight. Don Fehr, myself and several players on the negotiating committee were in the city and prepared to meet. The NHL said that it saw no purpose in having a formal meeting," NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said in a statement. "There have been and continue to be private, informal discussions between representatives of both sides."

In a lengthy statement posted on NHL.com, the league said it remains "committed to negotiating around the clock to reach a new CBA that is fair to the players and to the 30 NHL teams."

"Thanks to the conditions fostered by seven seasons under the previous CBA, competitive balance has created arguably the most meaningful regular season in pro sports; a different team has won the Stanley Cup every year; fans and sponsors have agreed the game is at its best, and the League has generated remarkable growth and momentum," the statement says.

"While our last CBA negotiation resulted in a seismic change in the League's economic system, and produced corresponding on-ice benefits, our current negotiation is focused on a fairer and more sustainable division of revenues with the players -- as well as other necessary adjustments consistent with the objectives of the economic system we developed jointly with the NHL Players' Association seven years ago.

"Those adjustments are attainable through sensible, focused negotiation -- not through rhetoric.

"This is a time of year for all attention to be focused on the ice, not on a meeting room," the NHL statement continues. "The league, the clubs and the players all have a stake in resolving our bargaining issues appropriately and getting the puck dropped as soon as possible. We owe it to each other, to the game and, most of all, to the fans."

Meanwhile, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who had lunch with Fehr on Saturday but no formal discussions, said the league saw any further talks as futile given the significant gulf that separates the two sides.

"We spoke today and determined that there was no point in convening a formal bargaining session in light of the fact that neither side is in a position to move off of its last proposal," Daly said via email.

"I'm sure we will keep in touch in the coming days and schedule meetings to the extent they might be useful or appropriate. We are sorry for where we are. Not what we hoped or expected."

As the NHL owners imposed their lockout, the league's website removed any reference to current players and all player images.

The NHL's online store also pulled any player-related gear, and all jerseys for sale were blank early Sunday morning.

Since the league's contract with the players expired, it no longer has rights to use the players' marks.

A lockout, the third in Bettman's tenure as commissioner, appeared imminent in the days leading up to the league's deadline. Bettman received a unanimous vote in support of imposing a lockout from the owners gathered at Thursday's board of governors meeting in New York.

The players launched their own display of solidarity: Almost 300 gathered at a Midtown Manhattan hotel down the road for meetings with NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and the rest of the negotiating committee on Wednesday and Thursday.

League superstar Sidney Crosby spoke out on behalf of the players and expressed frustration in facing a work stoppage.

"We've shown we're willing to give, but they've got to be willing,"
Crosby said. "It seems like there's a pretty hard line there, and they're not willing to budge."

Crosby, like many other players, said he'd consider playing overseas in the event of a lockout. According to one agent, several of his players had already reached tentative agreements to play in Europe.

Whether the two sides keep an open line of communication or choose to go dark -- the league and union went months without talking in 2004 -- remains to be seen, but there is a stark philosophical divide on what a new deal should look like.

While the league wants to reduce the players' share of hockey-related revenue -- "We believe 57 percent of HRR is too much," Bettman said Thursday -- the union is not interested in any deal that would require the players to take any immediate, absolute further reduction in salary.

The sides last exchanged proposals Wednesday, but failed to forge common ground. The NHL offered the players a 47 percent of the share when fully implemented (their first two proposals offered 43 and 46 percent, respectively) while the players suggested a limited growth in share tied to revenue growth.

With time winding down and a large gap to bridge, both sides dug in and refused to budge.

The last lockout forced the NHL to forfeit the entire 2004-05 season.

Donald Fehr said Thursday that a lockout was not a necessity, but rather a choice the league made.

"If it comes to that, it's a choice," Fehr said. "It's not a requirement, it's not something anybody has to do. If that's the way it's going to be, then unfortunately, that's the way it's going to be."

Information from ESPN.com sports business reporter Darren Rovell was used in this report.