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It feels that another lockout in the National Hockey League is becoming more of a reality than people once thought.

The NHL and the NHLPA met on Wednesday and Thursday, with Donald Fehr and the players presenting what Commissioner Gary Bettman called, “the rest of their proposal.” And, to no one surprise after the meeting was over between the two parties Bettman said, “We are far apart on that system.” Throughout the whole process both parties have maintained there is still a significant gap between the NHL and the NHLPA on the main issues.

This is something that people would hear before a work stoppage and it seems we are heading that way more and more each day as the bantering continues between both parties. Both parties have made it clear that it has been hard to get a deal done because they cannot agree on the fundamental issues of what the talks are about.

Via Renaud P Lavoie of RDS points this out clearly right here:

“We are focus on making a deal…NHLPA wants to keep things the way they and that is slowing the process.”

“It’s difficult to make progress when you don’t know what the fundamentals are.”

So what is at the heart of making a deal between the NHL and the NHLPA in order for hockey to get started on time this season? The answer is MONEY. Bettman is not happy paying the players these outrageous salaries as he said, ““We believe that we are paying the players more than we should be. It is simple as that.”

However, the NHL Players’ Association doesn’t quite see it the same way. Executive director Donald Fehr has acknowledged there is room for some flexibility in that area. The union proposal last week included three years with a slightly lower share in revenue for the players.

Fehr has come to table with one intention to make sure the players do not cave on the issues like they did during the last lockout.

Via Chris Johnston of the Globe and Mail on Donald Fehr’s position:

“Everybody understands that employers would always like to pay less,” said Fehr. “That’s not a surprise to anybody — it’s disappointing sometimes — but it’s not a surprise.”

“From the players’ standpoint, they want a fair agreement, they want one that is equitable, and they want one that recognizes their contribution.”

With the sides entrenched in their stances, no serious talks have begun as the September 15th deadlines for a lockout approaches. Can the NHL and its players’ afford to put the fans through another lockout again?

The league lost the entire T 2004-05 NHL season due to a lockout the potential to see another season start with one. The current CBA has raised the NHL growth from a $2.1 billion dollar industry to one that has grown to a $3.3 billion dollar industry annually. When Commissioner Bettman was asked about the damage a lockout could do; he replied, “We recovered well last time because we have the world’s greatest fans.”

The commissioner knows the fans will be back. The sport may lose the casual fan they gained from the last lockout, but the die-hard fan will always be following their favorite team. Fans are upset now with the games being played at the negotiating table, and the potential for games being lost. But, once hockey is back on the ice they will be in the arenas cheering again.

There is another issue facing both sides as it relates to money and how it is distributed. The league has also believed to raise the question of possibility of seeing players’ share in revenue in revenue drop incrementally rather than all at once. In theory that could be done at a rate that is matched by an expected increase in revenues. This would keep salaries constant over the duration of the agreement whiles take in more profit.

Via James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail on the players’ position on this matter:

“Fundamental issue for players is they want dollar value on their contracts to reflect what they’ll get paid. After all, escrow would be huge w/ big HRR share dip. Players don’t want the $4-mil deal signed two months ago to suddenly pay them $3-mil.”

To summarize, the NHL gave the players too much of the League’s revenue seven years ago, and wants to take it back. They also want to make sure that its 30-franchise owners do not spend over their limit again with loop-hole filled contracts and spend-to-the-cap salaries by putting in more fail-safe measures into the contracts. However, players are going to wonder how the mismanagement can be remedied by their giving up 24 percent of their salary under the NHL’s proposal.

Both parties have a lot of work to do as the Sept. 15 deadline approaches. Both parties will be back at the tables on Tuesday in New York to discuss key issues in the CBA.