NEW YORK -- Not long after nearly 300 players stood behind hockey union boss Donald Fehr in a show of solidarity did NHL commissioner Gary Bettman disclose all 30 of his owners are firmly behind the path he is taking.
Definitely not good news to those few hockey fans still hoping NHL players wont be locked out come Sunday morning.
Although Bettman repeatedly said he hoped a deal between the NHL and its players association could be worked out by Saturdays midnight deadline, he didnt sound optimistic when he closed his comments to the media at a Times Square hotel by saying, I hope to see you soon, and I hope its with better news.
The collective bargaining agreement the two have lived under the past seven seasons expires Saturday at midnight. Bettman has said the league will lock out its players for the third time since 1994 if a deal is not reached by then.
No meetings between are scheduled.
The Panthers plan on having their first practice of training camp on Sept. 22. If the lockout goes through as expected, the Panthers as well as all other teams will be banned from having any contact with their players.
Were standing behind our proposal, and we want a fair deal. Were standing behind each other, Florida Panthers winger Kris Versteeg said.
You cant predict anything. ... But were adamant about getting a deal done so we can play hockey. We have crazy support. The support we have in the NHL is pretty amazing.
Said Fehr: The subject of there possibly being a lockout coming at 12:01 Sunday morning has come up. ... That is a choice being made. No one has to do it.
On Thursday, Bettman said a show of hands from the 30 team representatives at the Board of Governors meeting was called in support of Bettman.
Bettman said the vote, which he noted was not necessary for a lockout to be called, was unanimous. The NHLPA has said a season could start on time under the old CBA, giving the sides more time to negotiate. Bettman, who criticized the union for there not being any urgency to get a deal done, said that will not happen.
No one wants a deal and to play hockey more than I do, Bettman said when asked what he would tell fans about yet another lockout under his watch. ... This is really hard. I feel terrible about it.
The sides sound far apart in their negotiations, yet not as dire as it was in 2004 when an entire season was lost. Then, the NHL drastically cut players pay and instituted a salary cap. Although the players appeared to have lost badly in the previous deal, things have worked out pretty well for both sides over the course of the pact.
The first salary cap for the 2005-06 season was $39 million; it was expected to be $70 million in 2012-13. The average salary was $1.4 million in 2005-06. Last year, the average salary was $1 million more.
The thought then was they got slammed, Bettman said. We made a fair deal, one that ended up being more fair than it should have been.
The NHL was in bad financial shape during the last lockout, yet things have improved.
Not only has the NHL grown in popularity which led to a new 10-year television deal in the United States but the league had record revenues of $3 billion last season. Players received 57 percent of hockey-related revenue in the previous CBA, a cut of the money the league wants to significantly reduce.