By Chris Kuc, Chicago Tribune reporter
5:39 PM AKDT, September 13, 2012
NEW YORK — Both sides of the NHL labor dispute displayed solidarity Thursday in New York as the clock continued to tick toward a work stoppage.
About 300 players — including six Blackhawks — gathered for the second day of meetings with NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr while the league's Board of Governors, Hawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz among them, huddled with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
After the meetings concluded, each side expressed frustration about the lack of progress on a new collective bargaining agreement and appeared braced for a lockout when the current deal expires at 11 p.m. Saturday.
Bettman said owners showed unanimous support of a lockout if a deal is not made before the league-imposed deadline. It would be the third work stoppage under Bettman's reign as commissioner and first since the 2004-05 season was canceled. The sides are still far apart on the core economic issues of hockey-related revenue and revenue sharing and there are currently no formal plans to meet.
"Nobody wants to make a deal and play hockey more than I do," Bettman said. "This is very hard and I feel terrible."
Bettman said the NHL is waiting on a response from the union on the league's latest proposal, but the NHLPA was not fond of the offer that slightly increased the proposedpercentage of revenue players would receive and didn't significantly alter the sharing of revenue between teams. Last season the players received 57 percent of that revenue and the owners previous proposal was for 49 percent in the first year and less in subsequent seasons.
"It can get to be frustrating," former Hawks and current Panthers winger Kris Versteeg said. "Especially when … you put two and two together you know what's fair and what's not. We're trying to better the league with our proposal … and they're almost looking to take cash and do it that way. We're trying to make the problems better and fix it."
Finger-pointing on both sides ramped up as the deadline nears with each side saying the other isn't giving enough as they look to divvy up money from a sport that generated $3.3 billion of revenue last season.
"Of course (players) are frustrated, of course they'd like this done (and) of course they'd like it to be over so they can get back on the ice," Fehr said. "No athlete likes to lose games. If they're willing to, there must be some powerful reasons."
When the players — including Hawks Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Ray Emery, Michael Frolik, Steve Montador and Brandon Bollig — were done meeting, they scattered toward their respective cities to begin a waiting game to see if they will be able to hold workouts with team personnel or, come Sunday, organize their own.
"Hopefully we're moving forward and getting things done," Bollig said. "Something that is fair for both sides. A lockout should be an option, maybe not the precedent. All we can do is stick by what we've been creating here and see where that takes us."
Training camps are scheduled to open Sept. 21 with exhibitions to begin a few days later. The regular season is to begin Oct. 11.
"We're still optimistic that something is going to get done," Capitals winger Troy Brouwer said. "There still is time. We don't feel that there is that looming Sept. 15 date because the season doesn't start for a little while longer. We want to get it done."