The NHL "will not play again until there is a new economic system," Bettman said at the Westin Times Square hotel.
"When the union wants to stop the posturing . . . we will be here, ready to make a fair and meaningful agreement that will usher in a new era for our game."
Bettman, who never used the word lockout, said the union needed to show a willingness to "join us in a partnership."
The Flyers and other teams were scheduled to open training camps today, but instead packed up to go home. Some players are expected to play in European leagues.
Front-office, on-air and behind-the-scenes personnel will be transferred to other jobs or have to look for other work.
Comcast-Spectacor, owner of the Flyers, said it instituted a hiring freeze early this year and had laid off a few Flyers front-office workers, but mostly plans to move staff to other parts of the company, including the 76ers and Phantoms.
The Flyers had been scheduled to open their regular season Oct. 13 at Tampa Bay.
The league has sought to impose a $31 million salary cap. The union, under executive director Bob Goodenow, has stated that it will never accept a salary cap.
"Until [Bettman] gets off the salary-cap issue, there is no chance of getting an agreement," Goodenow said yesterday during a conference call.
Goodenow also released a statement that read in part: "This is a disappointing day for NHL players and fans. . . . Shutting down the game of hockey is simply the wrong way to address the issues we are facing. . . . Unfortunately, the league has rejected all opportunities for compromise, while stubbornly insisting that Gary Bettman has the single solution to every problem - a salary cap."
Flyers chairman Ed Snider was vacationing in California and did not attend yesterday's meeting. Alternate governors Ron Ryan and Bob Clarke represented the club but were not available for comment.
"It's an embarrassing day for everyone," said New York Islanders general manager Mike Milbury, one of the few who talked. Several GMs described the mood at the meeting as "somber."
The last NHL work stoppage in 1994 under Bettman lasted 103 days.
An NHL-funded audit reported that the league lost $273 million in 2002-03, and the league says it lost $224 million last season.
Player salaries consume 75 percent of NHL club revenues. The National Football League, the most successful professional league, pays 64 percent of revenue to players. The NHL wants its number reduced to 50 percent.
Both sides have met a dozen times over the last year to work out a new deal, without a resolution. The league, Bettman said, presented six proposals, each of which the union rejected as being a form of a salary cap.
Goodenow said some of the proposals were conceptual and not well thought out. A copy of the league's proposals obtained by The Inquirer last night included one option that would increase the salary cap to $33.4 million.
Goodenow said he believed Bettman's proposals represented an honest attempt at an offer but left much to the imagination.
Bettman said that in the 10 years of the collective bargaining agreement, the league had incurred $1.8 billion in losses.
"We've given our fair share," he said. "My pledge at this difficult moment is that we will correct this untenable situation the right way. Not with Band-Aids and half-measures . . .."
He called the lockout a "short-term phenomenon" that would allow the league to emerge healthier, and said some teams stand to lose less money by not playing.
Bettman also acknowledged that he could, after a period of time, declare an impasse and attempt to unilaterally implement a contract, a move that would be seen as an attempt to break the union. He said, however, "it's not something we're considering right now."
Goodenow said in response, "It's an ill-advised strategy . . . and could be catastrophic."
Bill Daly, the league's lead counsel, said the union's offer would still result in a third of the clubs losing $10 million a year.
Daly yesterday continued to term the union's last proposal "insulting," while Bettman said the union was "instigating a fight."
Neither side would guess how long the work stoppage would last, while Bettman acknowledged the NHL would lose fans.
"I believe when we fix it the right way, our fans will come back," he added.
"This is a tough day for everybody," Washington Capitals GM George McPhee said. "But we don't have a choice. Everyone knows that."
Contact staff writer Tim Panaccio at 215-854-2847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The NHL's Most Recent Proposals
Here is a synopsis of the NHL's six proposals to the union on July 21, as obtained by The Inquirer:
Performance-based salary system: An overall percentage of league-wide revenues would be paid as player compensation. The percentage is negotiable, but it is clearly a salary cap. The criteria for performance is also negotiable and includes team and individual performance.
Player partnership payroll plan: Each team would be allotted 1,000 "units" for player salaries and teams would negotiate with players, assigning them units for a team total of 1,000. A complicated formula would determine the value of each unit.
Hard individual team salary cap: Both sides would agree on total player compensation that would not exceed an agreed-upon percentage of league-wide revenues - a hard cap, in other words.
Salary range with cash recapture: It's the same plan as above, but it would establish payroll thresholds that could not be more than 5 percent above and 5 percent below. A certain percentage of money would be put in escrow so that when all salaries were in, the NHL could determine whether it paid the players too little or too much. If it paid too much, the league could "recapture" money out of escrow.
Team salary groups: There would be 23 player "slots" and assigned salaries beginning at $500,000 and topping out at $5 million, with a specific number of players assigned to each category. Only one player per team could earn $5 million a year.
Centralized negotiations of contracts: The league would negotiate contracts between players or their agents in consultation with clubs, but with the league remaining the final authority. A salary cap (compensation as a percentage of league-wide revenues) would be in place as a guideline for player compensation.