TORONTO -- The NHL rejected last week's proposal by the players' association and then had its own counteroffer turned down Tuesday during a 3 1/2-hour negotiating session.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the offer made by the union last Thursday, which featured a 24-percent salary rollback, was a "big-time, significant and meaningful move" but was a short-term fix that wouldn't cure the league's financial troubles in the long run.
"In short, the league took what they liked from our proposal, made major changes and slapped a salary cap on top of it," union head Bob Goodenow said. "Put simply, our proposal provides the basis for a negotiated agreement. The NHL's does not."
The major difference in the dispute remains the salary-cap roadblock. The NHL wants one to achieve what it calls cost certainty. The players' association says it will never accept that as a solution.
"(Bettman) knows full well that a salary cap is a nonstarter for this organization," Goodenow said. "He remains fixated on the salary-cap solution. And as long as that's the case, there's going to be problems."
Bettman said no new negotiating sessions have been scheduled, moving the NHL closer to becoming the first North American sports league to lose an entire season to a labor dispute.
There might be a month left to salvage the season. The last NHL lockout ended with a deal on Jan. 11, 1995, allowing for a 48-game season to be played.
The lockout reached its 90th day Tuesday and has already forced the cancelation of 414 regular-season games and the 2005 All-Star game.
"As I've said all along, it's about getting the right deal," Bettman said. "I would hope at some point it gets to where it's relevant. If not, we'll start up whenever we have a new deal.
"We haven't focused on what a semblance of a season would be. We're serious about fixing this the right way."
After consulting with the 30 team owners, Bettman said the union's offer that didn't contain a direct link between revenues and player costs was rejected.
"The rollback is, in and of itself, not a system and we have had a full decade as to how the old system operates," Bettman said. "Our unanimous conclusion was that the union proposal does not work. It is fatally flawed as a system going forward."
Bettman said the NHL's counteroffer was then rejected.
The league proposal contained a salary cap, which, based on last year's economics, would see team player costs between $38.6 million and $34.6 million.
The NHL also revamped the players' association rollback offer, proposing a graduated scale. Players making less than $800,000 would not have their salary diminished. Those making $5 million or more would have 35 percent taken away from their existing contract.
"My hope is that the union leadership recognizes that the owners' resolve is great," Bettman said. "We only know of really one approach to meaningfully address and fix our problems. And unless somebody can miraculously come up with another approach, which I am highly skeptical of but always anxious to listen, we're committed to fixing this the right way."
The union's proposal also contained a luxury tax, a revenue sharing plan, a lower cap on entry-level contracts and bonuses, and an offer to allow teams to take players to arbitration.
But because it doesn't guarantee what each team will be required to pay its players, it didn't meet the solution the owners are seeking.
"You either know your costs or you don't," Bettman said.
The Canadian sports television network TSN reported Monday that NHL executive vice president Bill Daly sent a memo to team owners that said the league would turn down the union's offer.
Bettman has placed a gag order on team executives, and has already handed out significant fines to those who speak out of turn. Steve Belkin, one of the Atlanta Thrashers' owners, was ordered to pay $250,000 for saying the league would use replacement players next year if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached.
The punishment will be much harsher if the source of the leaked memo is revealed.
"If I find out, there won't be much reason for you to be talking to them because their career in the NHL will end abruptly," Bettman said. "I think it's about the most irresponsible thing that could be done. I would really like to know who did it."
The NHL hadn't given the players' association an offer since July 21, when it presented six possible concepts to provide a framework for the league's first new collective bargaining agreement in a decade.
All six were formally rejected by the players on Aug. 17, and negotiations that followed over the next month failed to move the sides any closer to resolving the philosophical difference of a salary cap.
Talks broke off Sept. 9 when owners turned down an offer, and the lockout was imposed a week later by Bettman. Players and owners stayed apart from early September until last Thursday.