The National Hockey League moved towards the players on a new collective agreement, and it may be enough to rescue a shortened season. But time is running out to get the deal done.
The league presented the NHL Players' Association a modified offer late Thursday that moved on several key elements of its last proposal. Then on Friday, following an afternoon conference call among the players, it was decided both sides would convene by conference call on Saturday with negotiations planned to follow on Sunday in New York, according to a report by Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gary Lawless.
Saturday's conference call will see representatives from the players and owners look through the NHL's latest offer for a collective agreement. They will go over any questions about it in advance of the anticipated negotiations on Sunday.
The NHL and its players have no more than 10 days left to save a 48-game season, a league executive said in the wake of the owners' offer.
The executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's gag order on management, said the commissioner made it clear in the last two weeks to both the union and the 30 NHL teams the last possible date to start a shortened season is January 19. This would allow for a 48-game season, the shortest schedule Bettman says the owners would allow, plus playoffs that would conclude in late June.
In that case, the executive said, the players and owners need to reach a new agreement by Jan. 5 or 6. That would leave one week to complete enough of the legal paperwork for the lockout to end, another week for training camp and the season would start on Saturday, Jan. 19. Other reports put the deadline to reach an agreement at Jan. 11 in order to start playing on Jan. 19.
"In light of media reports this morning, I can confirm that we delivered to the Union a new, comprehensive proposal for a successor CBA late yesterday afternoon," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. "We are not prepared to discuss the details of our proposal at this time. We are hopeful that once the Union's staff and negotiating committee have had an opportunity to thoroughly review and consider our new proposal, they will share it with the players. We want to be back on the ice as soon as possible."
Most notably, the NHL has increased its offer of a term limit on contracts from five years to six, with teams able to sign their own players to seven-year extensions.
The two other major changes are: an increase in the maximum year-to-year salary variance on contracts from 5 per cent to 10 per cent; adding the ability to make one compliance buyout in the summer of 2013 that would not count against the cap.
The remaining aspects of the league's last proposal, including the $300-million in "make whole" transition payments and a 10-year CBA length, appear to have stayed the same.
ESPN.com provided a comprehensive breakdown of the NHL's offer, which is believed to be close to 300 pages long.
Several players contacted by The Globe and Mail on Friday had yet to see the offer, although that may not be unusual as the negotiating committee would be the first to view it.
"Believe it when I see it," one player said via e-mail.
It's unlikely the deal would be enough for the players to decide to put it to a vote, but there was no immediate word following the union's conference call.
The proposal, which came amid rumours many owners told Bettman they did not want to lose the entire season, finally adds some optimism after the two sides went without meeting for the past two weeks.
Last week, players voted to give the NHLPA's executive board the authority to file a disclaimer of interest, which would effectively dissolve the union. The board has until Jan. 2 to act on that.
The NHL has already cancelled games through Jan. 14, which is just over 50-percent of the regular-season games.
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