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December 6, 2012

NHL rejects players' offer to break labor impasse

NEW YORK (AP) — The NHL and the players’ association are further apart than ever before.

Union executive director Donald Fehr began the first of his two news conferences last night by proclaiming he believed the sides had agreements on such issues as actual dollars, and then returned moments later to reveal the NHL rejected everything his side offered.

Hot-button topics such as the “make-whole” provision on existing contracts not only weren’t settled, but are no longer being offered by the league. Forget that owners were willing to pay up to $300 million to cover the costs, and Commissioner Gary Bettman countered by saying the entire concept is off the table — along with everything else the league offered during the previous two days of talks.

“They knew there was a major gulf between us and yet they came down here and told you we were close,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said about Fehr’s remarks.

When the NHL agreed to increase its make-whole offer of deferred payments from $211 million to $300 million it was part of a proposed package that required the union to agree on three nonnegotiable points. Instead, the players’ association accepted the raise in funds, but then made counterproposals on the issues the league stated had no wiggle room.

That ended yesterday’s long-awaited meeting after just an hour and sent the NHL negotiating team back to the league office.

“I am disappointed beyond belief,” Bettman said.

The sides won’t meet face-to-face again before tomorrow at the earliest. While Bettman insisted that a drop-dead date to have a deal that would preserve a season with “integrity” hasn’t been established — even internally — clearly there isn’t a whole lot of time to work out an agreement.

“I’m surprised,” Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby said. “We feel like we moved in their direction.”

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