The wide gap that existed in labor talks between the NHL and NHL Players' Association was hardly bridged on Wednesday, a day after the union presented its counterproposal and with the threat of a lockout now only a month away.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the two sides are ''still apart, far apart,'' and ''not on the same page,'' in making his first public comments since having a chance to read through the NHLPA's offer. Adding that he was ''a little disappointed'' that the union has yet to present its full proposal, Bettman said the league isn't even at the point of making a counteroffer.
''I think there are still a number of issues where we're looking at the world differently,'' Bettman said, after the two sides met for about an hour at the NHLPA headquarters in Toronto. ''So there's still a wide gap between us, and not much time to go.''
NHLPA executive director Don Fehr described the gap between the two sides as ''a pretty substantial monetary gulf.'' But he placed the blame on the NHL for creating the gap in the first place with the cutbacks in salary and limitations placed on free agency the league made in its initial offer last month.
The current collective bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 15, and the NHL has already warned that it will lock out its players if a new deal is not reached by then. The NHL regular season is set to open Oct. 11.
Bettman's response to the NHLPA's proposal and the large gap that remains between the two sides is regarded as a significant setback. That considerably raises fears that the NHL could be headed for its fourth labor dispute in 20 years. That's a timeframe that includes the 2004-05 season which was wiped out entirely by a lockout; and dates to April 1, 1992, when a 10-day players' strike led to 30 games being postponed and rescheduled.