NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, unwilling to let the 2012-13 season start on October 11 under the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA), said he has unanimous support from all 30 teams to lock out players if a deal cannot be reached before 12:01 a.m. on Sunday.
"We are not prepared to open another season until we have a new collective bargaining agreement," Bettman said. "The league is not in a position, not willing to move forward with another season under the status quo."
Bettman refused to term the NHL's latest offer as a take-it-or-leave it proposal but did say it would be taken off the table if, or when, the current CBA expires.
The main sticking point in the dispute, which threatens a fourth work stoppage in 20 years, lies with the two sides at odds over how to divide $3.3 billion in revenue.
The NHL, which enjoyed record-breaking revenues last season, initially wanted players to cut their share of hockey-related revenue to 43 per cent from 57 per cent but have amended that to a six-year deal that starts at 49 per cent and drops to 47 per cent.
Having had 24 hours to digest the latest offer, NHL Players' Association head Donald Fehr briefed nearly 300 players on the offer before it was given the thumbs down.
"There have been no developments since yesterday," Fehr told a news conference where he was flanked by several NHL players, including Sidney Crosby and Zdeno Chara. "The players very much want to reach an agreement provided that it's one which is fair and which is equitable and treats them appropriately."
No further talks are scheduled although Bettman and Fehr said they are prepared to meet at anytime.
The players are believed to be willing to accept a smaller share of projected revenues as the league grows, with an offer that opens at 54.3 per cent of revenues and dips to 52.7 per cent.
The day marked a sharp increase in the rhetoric coming from both camps with the players and owners digging in while staking their position.
Players made it clear that they are united and in no mood to give up the same kind of concessions they did after a labour dispute wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.
"We haven't ignored the owners," said Fehr. "We have proposed that under these circumstances we could construct an agreement in which, as revenues grow, the players compensation would be protected but it would grow significantly more slowly than revenues so that after a few years the league could grow out of any perceived difficulties that it had."
Bettman defended the owners' attempts for a bigger slice of the pie are necessary because the price of doing business has gone up since the last agreement was reached.
"We believe as a league we are paying out too much," said Bettman, who has locked out players twice since he was named commissioner in 1993. "Players in two other leagues (NFL and NBA) recognised that it wasn't inappropriate or unfair to reduce what they were getting.
"Nobody wants to make a deal and play hockey more than I do."