NHL rejects players' attempt to restart talks

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NEW YORK – The little hope that existed for a full NHL season appears to be gone.

Shortly after the players' reached out to the league on Tuesday night to restart stalled labor negotiations, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly rebuffed the union's attempt.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week, in presenting the league's most recent offer to the players, that if a new collective bargaining agreement wasn't reached by this Thursday, it would be impossible for a full regular-season schedule to be played.

No talks have been scheduled, and no last-minute discussions seem to be on tap.

"I don't anticipate any taking place for the balance of the week," Daly said in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday night. "The union has rejected the proposal we made last Tuesday and is not offering another one. We see nothing to be gained at this point by meeting just to meet."

Following a call for the union's executive board Tuesday night, the players' association informed the NHL it is willing to meet on Wednesday "or any other date, without preconditions, to try to reach an agreement," the players' association said in a statement.

The NHL's response wasn't what the union had hoped to hear.

The sides haven't met since the league turned down three counterproposals from the union on Thursday, two days after the NHL's offer that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue. Because the players' association hasn't shown an inclination to negotiate off of that NHL proposal, a stalemate now exists and could last for a while.

"The league is apparently unwilling to meet," NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr said in a statement. "That is unfortunate as it is hard to make progress without talking."

The developments on Tuesday night came hours after more discourse between the sides on the 38th day of the league's lockout.

While negotiators for the NHL and union kept conversations to a minimum, club officials had a brief window last week to discuss the league's latest proposal.

Those secretive discussions haven't produced any breakthrough, but they have inflamed an already unsettled atmosphere. The union hierarchy wasn't informed about the window then, and isn't happy about it.

"Most owners are not allowed to attend bargaining meetings," Fehr said earlier Tuesday. "No owners are allowed to speak to the media about the bargaining. It is interesting that they are secretly unleashed to talk to the players about the meetings the players can attend, but the owners cannot."

The NHL said Tuesday that team officials were able to have temporary contact with players, although there were parameters regarding what could be discussed.

"From our perspective, this is a nonissue and a nonstory," Daly said Tuesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There is nothing — legally or otherwise — that precludes club personnel from communicating with their players."

But, more important, is the fact that NHL officials aren't haven't productive talks with union leaders. Now it seems that a full season, starting on Nov. 2, won't take place.

As of now, the league has called off all games through Nov. 1. Without a deal this week, those games are in danger of being called off for good.

Last week, the NHL's most recent contract offer was presented to the union and then publicly released in full. The union returned to the bargaining table last Thursday with its various counterproposals, that would also get to an even split of hockey revenue, but each was quickly rejected by the league.

There is a major divide between the sides over how to deal with existing player contracts. The union wants to ensure that those are all paid in full without affecting future player contracts.

No negotiations have taken place since last week, but the sides held two conference calls over the weekend to address questions the union had regarding the NHL offer.

After the NHL released it on Wednesday, club officials were given until Friday to speak to players and answer questions they might have about the proposal.

In an internal league memo obtained by The Canadian Press, the NHL stated that those discussions must be limited to the contents of the proposal on the table. It also provided examples of questions that shouldn't be asked of players and noted that straying from the rules could "cause serious legal problems."

"You may not ask (a player) what he or others have in mind," the memo stated. "If he volunteers what he has in mind you should not respond positively or negatively or ask any questions but instead refer him to the NHLPA.

"Likewise, you may not suggest hypothetical proposals that the league might make in the future or that the league might entertain from the union."

This was the first time club officials were permitted by the NHL to talk to players since the lockout took effect Sept. 16.

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