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NHL talks break off as regular season approaches

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The Canadian Press
10/2/2012 7:46:19 PM
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The NHL is already seeing major revenue losses just a couple weeks into the lockout.

And the numbers being thrown around now will likely end up looking like chump change by the time the sport's latest labour dispute is settled.

Talks broke off quickly between the league and NHL Players' Assocation on Tuesday morning and deputy commissioner Bill Daly emerged from the meeting saying he didn't have "any progress to report." For the first time, he also revealed the extent of the damage the lockout has inflicted so far -- "close to" $100 million after the cancellation of the entire pre-season schedule.

"That is not going to be recouped and that's going to cost both sides," Daly told reporters in New York. "That's unfortunate but it's a reality of where we are."

The revelation didn't elicit much sympathy from the union. Executive director Donald Fehr pointed out the sides could have continued negotiating past the Sept. 15 expiry of the last agreement.

"If this is a loss, this is a loss that is entirely of their own making," Fehr told The Canadian Press in an interview. "They're the ones that did this, nobody told them to."

The $100 million lost so far represents approximately three per cent of the total amount of hockey-related revenue generated last season -- essentially the pool of money the sides need to agree to split up.

And the 17-day lockout hasn't yet resulted in the cancellation of any meaningful games. However, with the regular season scheduled to begin on Oct. 11, it's only a matter of time before that happens.

"It's something we obviously have to focus on in the short term and make an appropriate decision in the appropriate time," said Daly. "We're still focused on doing what we can to minimize the damage."

There are currently no other bargaining sessions planned. Fehr spoke with commissioner Gary Bettman by phone on Tuesday afternoon and is hopeful negotiations could resume in Toronto before the end of the week.

The talks have seemed troubled since the beginning.

A wide gulf has been evident since the NHL tabled an initial proposal that called for a flip in the way revenues are divided -- with players receiving 43 per cent rather than owners -- and included changes to rules governing contracts. The league has since proposed seeing the players' share reduced to 47 per cent over the course of a six-year deal.

Meanwhile, the NHLPA's latest offer would see it fall to approximately 52 per cent during the contract. They received 57 per cent last season.

"They started out with a massive reduction in player salaries proposed and a massive reduction in player negotiating rights," said Fehr. "They've sort of inched backwards a little bit after having run away from us about as far and as hard and as fast as they could.

"That's not the way to start out to try and make an agreement."

The league is growing frustrated with the union's unwillingness to table a new offer that includes more concessions. Daly has said repeatedly that the ball is in the NHLPA's court.

"We're looking for a long-term deal that's fair for the players, fair for the teams and good for the fans," he said. "That's what we want out of this negotiation and we need a negotiating partner to get there."

There are now more than 100 locked-out NHL players who have deals in Europe, with Zdeno Chara (HC Lev Praha, KHL), Patrice Bergeron (HC Lugano, Switzerland), Matt Duchene (Frolunda, Sweden) and Jamie Benn (Hamburg, Germany) among those signing deals on Tuesday.

The Russian-based KHL also announced plans to televise five games in the U.S. on ESPN3 later this month -- three involve Alex Ovechkin's Moscow Dynamo -- and a league executive indicated similar plans are in the works with a Canadian broadcaster.

"(We're) working on it," KHL vice-president Ilya Kochevrin told The Canadian Press via text.

Meantime, frustration continued to boil over among players left skating informally back in North America.

Any of the excitement Zach Parise felt after signing a $98-million contract with his hometown Minnesota Wild this summer has disappeared, with the forward again levying pointed criticism in the direction of the commissioner.

"You hope (the lockout) doesn't go too long, but it's tough to grasp when you've got a guy in Gary Bettman bragging every year that we're making 'record revenue, record revenue, record this,' and all of a sudden they want to take a quarter of what you've made away," Parise told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

With no progress being made, the situation is turning toxic.

Daly indicated that he doesn't believe a mediator would help the process along because there is no misunderstanding between the sides at the negotiating table. At this point, he thinks they both understand what the other is trying to accomplish.

"I don't think that we have a lack of communication in this negotiation," said Daly. "They understand what our position is. To this point we certainly understand what their position is.

"We just wish it was different."

Despite the doom and gloom in the air, Fehr vowed to forge on.

"You never give up and you always keep trying and you hope that lightning's going to strike one day," he said. "We'll see."



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