NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- On Tuesday, the NHL labor talks appeared headed for a breakthrough. Yesterday, however, there was nothing but a breakup.
The National Hockey League Players' Association rejected two proposals by the owners as union leader Bob Goodenow called management's latest ideas little more "than different approaches on the same theme."
The NHLPA did promise to return to the negotiating table with its own new proposal within the next two days.
But those familiar with yesterday's negotiations said the owners actually offered a version of the players' own plan for a tax on gate receipts and payrolls.
Both sides agreed not to discuss details of the negotiations, but commissioner Gary Bettman said he told Goodenow during the meetings that if he "didn't know better" he'd think the union chief had put the gate receipt tax into the union's previous proposal to make sure it wouldn't be accepted.
"We changed the format of our proposal to address their stated concerns," said Bettman. "The fact is, I can get a payroll tax through the board of governors if we can make a deal."
But there was no deal yesterday and Goodenow said it would be "a long, difficult process" to reach one.
The two sides are groping for a collective bargaining agreement. The NHL wants to rein in ballooning salaries and help its small-market teams. The players association wants to help the small markets, but not if that means installing a salary cap.
The two sides have an Oct. 15 deadline for reaching an agreement. It was set by Bettman when he deferred action on a union proposal for a no-strike/no-lockout agreement that would have gotten the NHL season started.
Bettman said he would consider the union's no-strike offer Oct. 15 if progress was being made toward a settlement.
Finding progress yesterday was difficult.
Washington Capitals wing Kelly Miller said the union will never agree to anything "resembling a salary cap."
Boston Bruins president Harry Sinden said the owners "will never capitulate" to the union's efforts to keep business operating as usual.
"I think there is quite a bit of frustration," said Miller. "But we're trying to work through it. We're going to try to put together a proposal that is responsive to them, but also very responsive to our membership."
Goodenow said there were "fundamental problems" with the owners' proposal in terms of "objectives and effects."
The one core issue is revenue reallocation. "We've already gone the extra mile in these negotiations," said Goodenow. "Our last proposal [no strike/no lockout] would have us on the ice right now."
Miller said the NHLPA doesn't believe the league needs a salary cap. "They're all very successful businessmen and we feel they can operate their businesses successfully without a salary cap. We've already got a very restraining system."
Miller said the mood of the players remains cordial for the most part.
But the cordiality ended when the owners emerged.
Sinden, like a number of NHL presidents and general managers, views Goodenow as an obstructionist.
"I held back yesterday," said the Bruins president. "But more and more I see a total unwillingness to accept whatever we put forth until we finally -- he thinks -- capitulate, like we did the last time, only to find ourselves going through two years of extended economic misery.
"We will never capitulate. We're not the same group that went over the cliff the last time. But knowing what I know about his negotiating tactics, it leaves a sense of hopelessness."
Even the moderates here, Pittsburgh Penguins owner Howard Baldwin and Montreal Canadiens chairman of the board Ronald Corey, were pessimistic. "I think the lines are hardening," said Baldwin. "I've never been in a negotiation where one side doesn't say anything. It's difficult to negotiate with yourself."
And New Jersey Devils owner John McMullen, a hard-liner who only a day ago said he thought these talks could be wrapped up in two days, did a complete about-face.
"I have no hope," he said. "I don't think we're going to be able to reach an agreement."