The NHL Players' Association presented a counter-offer to the NHL on Monday afternoon and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman promised a response from the league by Tuesday afternoon.
Both Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr were careful not to describe how they each viewed the state of negotiations or the chances of seeing the lockout end in time for the NHL's deadline of Jan. 19 to start a 48-game season.
"They’re in the process of reviewing the documents and presentations we made and we expect to hear from them [Tuesday]," Fehr said. "That’s about all I can say."
Bettman was similarly circumspect, which gave rise to optimism progress could finally be seen in the lockout, which hit 107 days on Monday.
"I think it would be premature for me to characterize [the NHLPA counter-offer] and not particularly helpful to the process," Bettman said. "We really need the time to go through it and that's something I said we'll do, turn this around overnight."
The players and owners met for about 30 minutes at the NHL offices Monday afternoon as the offer was presented. The NHL then went into internal meetings while the union's negotiating team, which included six players, waited to hear if the league wanted more time to examine the proposal or would resume bargaining right away. The session ended a after little less than three hours when the NHL told the union it would continue studying its offer and present a response by Tuesday morning, with negotiations expected to resume by mid-day.
It was the first face-to-face session between the owners and players since Dec. 13. The NHLPA counter-proposal was based on the offer the owners made last Thursday.
The key points in the players' view are the drop in the salary cap in 2013-14, the first full season since the lockout began, and how much of their salaries they will lose through escrow.
In their latest offer, the owners called for a pro-rated $70-million (all currency U.S.) cap for whatever length this season is, with the cap dropping to $60-million in 2013-14. Both sides have already agreed to a 50-50 share of league revenue.
However, the players want a gradual drop to a cap based on a 50-50 split while the owners want it in 2013-14. The players also want the owners to guarantee a minimum escrow hit on their pay cheques.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr was expected to address both issues in the counter-proposal. The players were expected to ask for a $67-million salary cap in 2013-14 and for a cap on their escrow payments. The owners have thus far refused to consider a cap on escrow.
Time is running out on the latest bid to end the lockout and save a partial hockey season. The league made it clear in its offer it is willing to play a 48-game season but it has to start by Jan. 19, which leaves about seven to 10 days for a new collective agreement to be reached.