NEW YORK -- With time short to arrive at a new collective bargaining agreement, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday the league's owners are willing to meet with the National Hockey League Players' Association at any time to avoid a lockout.
"We'll meet, as I've said, any time and any place," Bettman said. "If they choose not to have any reason to get together with us, then we'll have to accept that."
Each side briefed its membership Thursday as to their positions in the ongoing negotiations, which began June 29.
The NHL held a Board of Governors meeting at a Midtown hotel Thursday afternoon. During that meeting, the owners voted unanimously in favor of imposing a lockout if a new CBA is not reached by 11:59 p.m. EDT Saturday. The vote, called by one of the owners to get the result on record, was not necessary as Bettman already had the authority to impose a lockout if there is not a new deal.
The union estimated that more than 275 players attended the NHLPA executive board and negotiating committee meetings that started Wednesday night and continued Thursday morning.
"The board was given a thorough, soup-to-nuts [report] of everything that has transpired in these negotiations," Bettman said. "The conclusion remains, as it has been our position from the outset, we need a new collective bargaining agreement to move forward with the season."
There are no formal negotiating sessions scheduled prior to the expiry of the current CBA, but it is likely the two sides will stay in contact.
"Our position will be once the lockout begins that we're not going to walk away from discussions and we'll certainly be prepared if we have anything new to say," NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said. "We're not going to stand on ceremony. Hopefully they'll be on the same page. But I think it's very difficult what to predict if we get there. I like to still believe that we won't."
Bettman said the owners were hoping their latest proposal -- tabled Wednesday following a proposal from the union that the League felt did not address its concerns -- would be seen as an invitation to continue bargaining negotiations in a timely fashion in order to reach a deal prior to the weekend.
The NHL proposed a six-year term on a new CBA that preserved the current definitions of hockey-related revenue (HRR), a change from its original proposals. The NHL's proposal would contemplate a reduction in the players' share that is less than 10 percent for the first year, a number the League said would decrease in subsequent seasons.
The league's latest proposal also moved $275 million in the players' direction from its previous proposal. That's in addition to the $460 million it moved in the players' direction off its July 13 proposal, the first proposal made in these negotiations.
The players' share of HRR in the 2011-12 season was 57 percent, a number Bettman said is too high a threshold at which to operate for the owners.
Bettman said the Union has not responded to the latest proposal, but he is hoping to get one that recognizes that the League made "yet another meaningful move and we're trying to engage in a negotiation."
"The game on the ice has never been better. That is a function of this system," Bettman added. "The system that was originally negotiated in our view needs some adjustments, and if it turned out to be a too rich a deal for the first seven years, we lived with it but I'm not going to apologize for saying, 'You know what, we need to adjust it.' "
Fehr said the players' main contention is that they don't believe they should have to take a reduction in absolute dollars from the amount they were paid last season. Instead they would be amenable to a reduced share of HRR over time, provided revenue sharing is enhanced, Fehr said.
Bettman said the owners are not amenable to the union's proposal because it is not a reduction in real dollars, but is instead only a potential reduction in percentage.
"We have discovered over the last seven years that there are things about this system that haven't worked as well as we anticipated," Bettman said. "We believe with adjustments that we think are appropriate the League as a whole and our clubs will be healthy and stable and we can continue to grow the game and that will over time make sure players continue to grow their salaries."