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NHL will lock out players Sept. 15 if no new deal in place

National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to reporters about on going labor talks with the NHL Players Association outside the league's headquarters in New York, Tuesday, July 31, 2012. The current collective bargaining agreement ends on Sept. 15, and the NHL season is scheduled to open on Oct. 11.

Kathy Willens/AP

Thirty-seven days.

That's how much time remains for the NHL and its players' association to bridge a wide gap in collective bargaining negotiations or face another lockout.

Commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear during Thursday's bargaining session in New York that the league is prepared to lock out its players when the current agreement expires Sept. 15.

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"I re-confirmed something that the union has been told multiple times over the last nine to 12 months," Bettman told reporters after a two-hour meeting. "Namely, that 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. 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 towards."

The clock is ticking.

It makes next week's meetings in Toronto particularly important, with NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr expected to deliver the union's first official proposal on Tuesday. It won't look anything like the one the NHL handed over July 13.

The union found very little, if anything, it liked in that document, which called for a lowering of the players' share in revenue, introduced new contract restrictions and called for an extended entry-level system.

One change the players will seek is a broadening of the revenue- sharing system between teams. Fehr raised that issue Thursday during the talks at NHL headquarters as a way to illustrate why the NHLPA wasn't in favour of the league's proposal.

"We made a presentation directly related to the owners' proposal — a revenue-sharing system as it would be combined with the player compensation system that they had proposed," said Fehr. "In the course of doing that, (we) indicated to them that for a couple of different reasons it didn't look to us like it was the way to go.

"In particular, the biggest reason was that it seems to us, 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."

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That was by design.

Bettman indicated that "fundamental economics" are more of a key element to the negotiations than revenue sharing.

"The fundamental proposal, our initial proposal, relates to the fact that we need to be paying out less in player costs," he said.

The NHL lost its entire 2004-05 season to a lockout and seems to be facing the growing possibility of another one. It would be the third on Bettman's watch.

Fehr has floated the idea of continuing negotiations while players report to training camp if a new deal wasn't in place by Sept. 15.

"Under the law, if an agreement expires, that may give someone the legal ability to go on strike or in this case to impose a lockout," he said. "There's no requirement that they do so and if nobody does anything you (can) continue to work under the old conditions."

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However, with the NHL unwilling to do that, negotiations will need to pick up pace. Even though the sides have been meeting regularly since the end of June, very little progress has been made on what they refer to as the "core economic issues" — how revenues should be divided.

"There's a meaningful gulf there," said Fehr. "I'll leave it at that for now."

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