Bettman said that if the players don't accept the owners' latest proposal by Saturday night, "that deal is off the table" because of "extensive damage" that will be done if time is missed.
The collective-bargaining agreement expires late Saturday night. If no agreement is in place by that time, the NHL will have its second lockout since 2004-05.
"I would like to remind everybody that a lockout is a choice. It doesn't have to be made," said Donald Fehr, executive director of the players' association.
Fehr criticized the owners' latest proposal and shrugged off Bettman's comments about pulling a deal off the table, saying it was all a part of the negotiating game.
The owners want a six-year CBA, while the players proposed a plan Wednesday that "in almost all circumstances" will be a five-year pact, Fehr said. Bettman said the latest plan would give the players $250 million to $300 million more than the owners' previous proposal.
Fehr didn't seem impressed. He noted the players made lots of concessions in the last CBA, including the initiating of a salary cap that, he said, saved the owners "literally billions over the life of the agreement."
In the new CBA proposed by the owners, Bettman said cutbacks on player salaries would be 9.7 percent by the NHL's estimation. The NHL's initial proposal reportedly wanted the players to take a 24 percent cut.
Other issues, such as length of contracts, salary arbitration, unrestricted free-agency, and revenue sharing, are on hold until the debate over hockey-related revenue (HRR) is resolved, Bettman said.
The owners made a concession by deciding not to attempt to redefine what constitutes hockey-related revenue. But the league still wants a reduction in player salaries through escrow.
In the last collective-bargaining agreement, players received 57 percent of the HRR. Before Wednesday, the NHL wanted to reduce the players' share to 46 percent. At Wednesday's meeting, the NHL increased the players' take, raising it to 49 percent in the first year; it will be down to 47 percent in the last season of the six-year CBA.
In any event, the players would take a significant pay cut, Fehr said.
The owners have gone from asking for "an extraordinarily large amount to a really big amount," said Fehr, mindful that the NHL had a record $3.3 billion in revenue last season.
While the players' association believes revenue sharing will help the small-market teams stay afloat, Bettman doesn't feel that way.
"We don't view revenue sharing as an issue," Bettman said. "There's going to be more than enough money to satisfy any revenue sharing concerns."
"What it does require is that higher-revenue teams be willing to do their part, too," he said. "They've got to be willing to say, 'We're willing to help out, too, [with revenue sharing].' So far, we don't hear it."
As a show of solidarity, close to 300 players - including several Flyers - met at a midtown Manhattan hotel for a union meeting Wednesday evening. The contingent included the Flyers' Braydon Coburn, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Max Talbot, Ilya Bryzgalov, Brayden Schenn, Luke Schenn, Matt Read, Jody Shelley, and Ruslan Fedotenko.
Briere was skeptical about Bettman's announcement that the definition of hockey-related revenue had reverted back to the formula used in the current CBA.
"That's good, but let's wait and see if there are other tricks hidden somewhere," he said.
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