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NHL Lockout: NHLPA outlines its case, says it wants deal to stabilize industry

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

After sleeping on the CBA negotiations Wednesday that resulted in the exchange of proposals between the league and its players, the NHLPA addressed the media Thursday to give an update on where things stand.

It's still not good.

With 283 players or possibly more in attendance (and Sidney Crosby of course flanking him), NHLPA head Donald Fehr lined up the situation from the union's standpoint.

"The players want to find a way to make an agreement," Fehr said. "They want to negotiate until we do."

Later in the day commissioner Gary Bettman also met with the media -- in front of all black background, which seemed kind of fitting in a depressing sort of way -- and said repeatedly that the NHL is not prepared to continue paying out the type of money it has been under the current agreement and will not play until there is a new deal in place. He also made it clear that the NHL's board of governors unamiously voted in favor of a lockout on Thursday if it should have to come to that.

Time and time again Fehr made it clear the players want to have a deal and want to play hockey. Fehr at one point even seemed to be almost begging the NHL to reconsider imposing a lockout, saying it does have a choice and can continue to operate under this CBA while negotiations continue.

Of course, he and everybody else knows Gary Bettman and the owners won't go for that. It's a pretty easy position to take if you're the players, taking on the role of martyrs.

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That doesn't mean there weren't plenty of salient points made by the NHLPA on Thursday.

"We'd like an agreement that stabilizes this industry, allows markets that need to grow to grow," Fehr said. "Hockey is poised, I think, to really move over next couple of years."

He has a point. I'm dubious that the owners' stance of keeping everything pretty much status quo as far as the system goes but just changing the way the pie is divvied isn't going to do anything to prevent this situation unfolding once again in another six years or so. It's a cycle that the sport is obviously stuck in and the NHLPA is at least going outside the box and continuing to try to stabilize the industry.

The biggest way it has suggested doing that all along has been through expanded revenue sharing. While Bettman has said there isn't much disagreement between the sides on that topic, Fehr didn't seem to necessarily agree. He was asked about the NHL's take on increased sharing to help the struggling markets, particularly in the South.

"A little bit surprised, significantly disappointed," he said.

That would adequately sum up the majority of the NHLPA right now, I presume. Well, not the surprise part. There isn't much at all that's surprising about any of this. But the disappointment? Absolutely.

The NHL's most recent offer, which expires Saturday at midnight, gives the players a greater share of hockey-related revenue than previous offers. But as Fehr pointed out, it still calls for a 17-percent pay reduction for the players. That's not chump change.

"What would your reaction be in similar circumstances?" Fehr rhetorically asked the reporters in attendance. "That's the way you need to understand the disagreement we have.

"No athlete likes to lose games. If they are willing to, there must be some powerful reasons."

Fehr continued by saying that everybody needs to share the sacrifices. The players did enough of that last time; now they need some help.

"If there is going to be sacrifice then the question is, Are players the only ones whose compensation is to be reduced?"

After all, this is how he summed up the owners' stance: "Less money. Fewer rights."

Now things get really interesting, and by that I mean scary. The NHL will also speak Thursday and will share its side of the story and after that it will be very clear that a lockout is going to happen. Then, when negotiations continue under a lockout, things could get nasty.

Fehr declined to comment on whether or not the players would suggest removing the salary cap altogether after a lockout is imposed. Hey, if the gloves are off then the gloves are off. The fact that he didn't deny that could happen was a bit of a harbinger of bad news. If that threat comes down the pipe, we could be looking at a looooong lockout. It would probably be a tactic to get concessions, but still. The resolve is strong in the union this time. Same for the owners.

If you want to watch the entire press conference with Fehr, it's at the top. Might want to find your comfort blanket first or something.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @StubitsCBS on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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