Bettman Says NHL Not Prepared to Play Unless Labor Deal Reached

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the National Hockey League isn’t prepared to operate next season unless a new labor agreement is reached.

The league and its players union met yesterday in New York to discuss a recent league proposal on revenue sharing and player compensation. Bettman said afterward the two sides have a “wide gap to bridge” on a number of issues.

He added that the NHL Players’ Association has been told “multiple times” over the past year that the owners weren’t prepared to operate the 2012-13 season under the current accord, which expires on Sept. 15.

League spokesman Frank Brown said in an e-mail that it was “not wrong” to interpret that as implying the NHL would lock out its players without a new deal. He stressed that Bettman never referred directly to a lockout in his remarks.

League revenue, buoyed by a 10-year, $2 billion television contract with Comcast Corp.’s NBC, swelled to an estimated $3.2 billion last season from $2.2 billion in 2006, according to the NHL. The league hasn’t said how much of this year’s record revenue is profit.

NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said the players have reviewed and responded to the league’s proposal on revenue sharing and player compensation.

“We’ve got the numbers, we have analyzed the proposal to the extent we can with the numbers we have, looking at the effect both overall and on an individual club-by-club basis,” Fehr said, adding that there is a “meaningful gulf” between the two side’s expectations.

Lost Season

The league’s current collective bargaining agreement was reached after the entire 2004-05 season was wiped out when team owners shut down the league. Should the sides fail to reach a new agreement by Sept. 15, there is no legal requirement for a lockout, as the sides can continue to operate under the old agreement.

Fehr, a former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, declined to comment on whether the league had communicated its intentions should Sept. 15 pass without an agreement being reached.

The owners and players plan to meet at least three times next week in Toronto, where the NHLPA will present its own proposal, he added.

“There is ample time for the parties to get together and make a deal,” Bettman said. “That is what we’re going to be working towards.”

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