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NHL lockout talks break off again

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NEW YORK (AP) - Jaymes Hall had a question for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman about the lockout, which already has wiped out more than a quarter of the regular season: Why not put aside the money in dispute and get back on the ice.

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Hall tried to get in his question while Bettman was responding to media members outside the league's Manhattan office. When the commissioner was done, he turned his attention to the 41-year-old fan from Lancaster, Pa.

``When you're dealing with a union that really isn't trying to negotiate, make any deal that we can live with for the long-term health of this game, there isn't much else you can do,'' Bettman said while the audience came out of the Roundabout Theater next door following a Wednesday matinee.

``And we're hoping that with the passage of time, the players' association will come to realize that what we have proposed has been more than fair. And the fact that we're keeping this proposal on the table, when it was contingent on an 82-game season, should be evidence of our desire to get this done the right way.''

NHL labor talks broke off soon after they resumed Wednesday, with players maintaining their new proposal was a huge economic concession and Bettman pretty much saying the only deal he will agree to is the one management proposed last month.

On the 67th day of the lockout, the sides headed home for Thanksgiving with no end in sight to the sport's fourth work stoppage. The union's negotiating committee planned to brief players and get back in touch with management on Friday.

Informed of Bettman's comments, union head Donald Fehr said, ``my response is they seem to consider negotiating to be merely agreeing with them.''

``We've identified what's important to players, but they seem to be so far at least unwilling to treat those concerns in a serious way,'' Fehr said in a telephone interview.

Players made what both sides called a comprehensive proposal. Fehr said the sides were $182 million apart in a five-year deal, which comes to $1.2 million annually for each of the 30 teams.

``On the big things there was as of today no reciprocity in any meaningful sense, no movement on the players' share, no movement on salary-arbitration eligibility, no movement on free agency eligibility, no agreement on a pension plan,'' Fehr said as he left the talks.

Management wants to increase eligibility for free agency to 28 years of age or eight seasons of NHL service, up from 27 years or seven seasons.

Management also proposed adding a year of service for salary arbitration eligibility, hiking it from 1-4 to 2-5 years of service, depending on the age a player signs, a person familiar with the bargaining said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because that detail wasn't announced.

``There seems to be a lot of spinning and gamesmanship going on,'' Bettman said.

Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey, among nine players at the bargaining session, said the union was ``disappointed with the response.''

``There was no meaningful move in our direction on anything that we would consider,'' he said.

Fehr nearly said players found the day's two bargaining sessions, which totaled 2 1/2 hours, to be a waste of time.

``A lot of the people that were there today, given the response we got, thought they had a lot better things to do on the night before Thanksgiving than hear what we got,'' he said.

The NHL on Oct. 16 proposed a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue, down from the players' 57 percent portion of $3.3 billion last season. With guaranteed contracts likely to push the players' share over the halfway mark at the start of the next deal, management wants that money to come out of future years to bring the overall percentage down to an even split over the length of an agreement.

Players previously had proposed they receive a guaranteed amount of income each year.

``Gary said we were $900 million or $1 billion apart,'' Fehr said, referring to the gap over a five-year deal. ``At the moment we are exactly $182 million apart.''

Fehr said players proposed they get $393 million over the length of the deal, while the NHL is at $211 million. Management wants a seven-year deal, which the union says is too long because less than half the current players will be active by the last season.

``To expect our best economic proposal to get better as the damage continues to increase isn't particularly realistic,'' Bettman said. ``From an economic standpoint, we've given what we have to give. It was our best offer. And again, put it in the context that the business is probably losing between $18 and $20 million a day and the players are losing between $8 and $10 million a day.''

This is the league's third lockout since 1994. The first settled on Jan. 11 and the last one led to Bettman announcing the cancellation of the 2004-05 season on Feb. 15.

The league has canceled 326 games through Nov. 30 plus the Jan. 1 Winter Classic between Toronto and Detroit at Ann Arbor, Mich. More cancellations are coming.

``That's something that we're going to have to look at on a daily basis,'' Bettman said. ``I think that becomes inevitable as time goes on.''

AP NEWS
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