TORONTO — Another NHL lockout is beginning to look inevitable.
Unable to move beyond the philosophical stage of talks, the owners and players have watched another week slip by without progress. They sat down together for a quick session Thursday morning before reporting the same significant gap that has existed all along.
The main issue that divides them is far from complex.
‘‘We believe we’re paying out more than we should be,’’ commissioner Gary Bettman said. ‘‘It’s as simple as that.’’
Of course, the NHL Players’ Association doesn’t quite see it that way.
Executive director Donald Fehr has acknowledged there’s room for some flexibility in that area, but he hasn’t come to the table in a conciliatory mood after taking over a union that capitulated during the last round of negotiations.
‘‘Everybody understands that employers would always like to pay less,’’ Fehr said. ‘‘That’s not a surprise to anybody. It’s disappointing sometimes, but it’s not a surprise.’’
With both sides so entrenched, real negotiations have yet to begin, even though the Sept. 15 deadline for a lockout is fast approaching.
The parties attempted to make progress Wednesday by clearing the room of everyone but the key figures: Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly along with Fehr and his brother Steve Fehr, the union’s No. 2 man. They soon discovered there was little common ground.
Those same four men will reopen talks Tuesday in New York during what promises to be a key negotiation session. The sides have tentatively blocked off the rest of the week for meetings as well, but they must first determine if there’s anything worth talking about.
The current CBA has been in place as the NHL grew from a $2.1 billion industry to one that pulls in $3.3 billion annually — a fact that isn’t lost on either side.
‘‘We recovered well last time because we have the world’s greatest fans,’’ Bettman said.
The essential difference between the offers is perhaps best articulated in terms of their impact on the salary cap. Under the NHL’s initial proposal, it would fall to $50.8 million next season. The NHLPA’s would see it set near $69 million.
While it’s natural to assume the parties might be more willing to make concessions as Sept. 15 nears, Fehr said they already know what’s at stake.
‘‘If there’s going to be a lockout — and that’s something that the owners will choose or not — then you would have missed games, you would have lost revenue, you would have lost paychecks,’’ he said. ‘‘But that doesn’t mean that the parties don’t understand going into it that that would be the case.’’