NEW YORK -- Over the course of about 24 hours in New York, the two sides in the NHL collective bargaining agreement standoff retreated to their corners.
When they emerged Thursday afternoon, it was clearer than ever that each faction is entrenched and that a lockout beginning Saturday night is all but inevitable.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said plainly that the league believes it is paying players too much and reported that there was a unanimous vote at a board of governors meeting that the league will not enter another season under the current CBA, which was implemented after a lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.
Although there are other issues, right now it's all about money, and who gets what share of revenues.
"Core economic issues, as they've come to be referred to, are the big hurdle," said Penguins forward and NHL Players' Association representative Craig Adams, who was joined by 11 teammates at union meetings Wednesday night and Thursday.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said at least 283 players attended, and they came away convinced that the league will lock out the players when the CBA expires at 11:59 p.m. Saturday.
"Just by the way things have gone, it almost feels like ... you don't want to say it, but it almost seems like this was [what the league wanted]," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "Whatever the case was, they weren't budging.
"I think we're all kind of feeling right now that that's kind of what they're looking for."
The sides exchanged new proposals Wednesday before the players met. Each side called the others' proposal unacceptable. No talks between the sides are scheduled, but that could change at any time.
Bettman cited rising team costs in a wide variety of areas since 2004, including team massage therapists, coaching salaries and the rising price of jet fuel for charter flights. He also described the record $3.3 billion revenue from 2011-12 as more of an anomaly than a base number from which to negotiate.
On the players' side, there is a belief that they are the only ones being asked to give back.
"I remember 2004, it was tough, all the concessions we made there," Penguins defenseman and alternate union representative Brooks Orpik said, referring to a 24 percent salary reduction.
"But we gained a lot in free agency, arbitration rights. This time around, it kind of seems like it's just all concessions from our side, and we're not really getting anything in return. Usually in most negotiations, it's give and take."
Bettman said the CBA that is about to expire was "perhaps more fair than it should have been."
Crosby described the relationship between the league and its players as "a partnership," but he's not sure the NHL is living up to that definition.
"It's a lot of money, no doubt, on both sides. To try to put that in perspective is hard to do," he said. "That being said, if you look at the key principles, we're showing that we're willing to move and willing to sacrifice things with our proposal. With that, both sides have room to grow and continue to have success. I think if you look at their proposal, it's not really the same type of feeling.
"When it comes down to it, both sides have to be willing to sacrifice a bit. I feel like our side is doing a little bit of that, and it doesn't seem like they're really willing to do that."
Other Penguins who attended the meetings were forwards James Neal, Pascal Dupuis, Joe Vitale, Matt Cooke and Tanner Glass, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and defensemen Matt Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy.
"We had a great turnout. Everyone's clear on where we stand," Niskanen said.
The players said there was a lot of information provided. It covered everything from proposals made to contingency plans to the need for insurance in the event of a lockout.
"You get to talk to a lot of guys. It was very interesting, instructive," Fleury said.
Vitale hasn't been in the league nearly long enough to know much about the last lockout.
"I'm really glad I made the trip," he said. "I learned more in the last 24 hours than I probably have in the last year.
"I guess I just assumed there would be a divide among players -- different teams and everything -- but coming here, you really do see how everyone is in it for the same reasons."
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published September 14, 2012 4:00 AM