NEW YORK – The NHL players’ union presented a counteroffer to the league Monday and waited for a response in the latest effort to resolve a lockout and start a shortened season.
The sides met at NHL headquarters and negotiated for the first time since they met with a federal mediator on Dec. 13. After presenting their proposal, union representatives stayed in the building in case there were further discussions – later, with talks done for the day, the union said it expected a response from the NHL this morning.
The New Year’s clock ticked down while the window to reach a labor agreement to save the season rapidly was closing. No one has said exactly how much time remains, but the belief is the NHL wants an abbreviated season to start no later than Jan. 19.
That leaves a little less than two weeks to reach an agreement and hold one week of training camp before the puck would drop on a 48-game campaign.
So far, a deal has proved elusive and well out of reach.
The league and the union had informational discussions – by conference call and in meetings – with staff members that lasted much of Saturday and ended Sunday. Those talks were spurred by the nearly 300-page contract proposal the NHL presented to the union Thursday.
All games through Jan. 14 have been canceled, claiming more than 50 percent of the original schedule. The NHL wants to reach a deal by Jan. 11 and open the season eight days later.
Bargaining sessions with only the NHL and union hadn’t been held since Dec. 6, when talks abruptly ended after the players’ association made a counterproposal. The league said that offer was contingent on the union unconditionally accepting three elements and without further bargaining.
The NHL then pulled all existing offers off the table. Two days of sessions with mediators the following week ended without progress.
A person familiar with key points of that previous offer told The Associated Press that the league proposed raising the limit of individual free-agent contracts to six years from five – seven years if a team re-signs its own player; raising the salary variance from one year to another to 10 percent, up from 5 percent; and one compliance buyout for the 2013-14 season that wouldn’t count toward a team’s salary cap but would be included in the overall players’ share of income.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the new offer weren’t being discussed publicly.
The NHL maintained the deferred payment amount of $300 million it offered in its previous proposal, an increase from an earlier offer of $211 million. The initial $300 million offer was pulled after negotiations broke off this month.
That proposal was for 10 years, running through the 2021-22 season, with both sides having the right to opt out after eight years.
The NHL is the only North American professional sports league to cancel a season because of a labor dispute, losing the 2004-05 campaign to a lockout. A 48-game season was played in 1995 after a lockout stretched into January.
It is still possible this dispute eventually could be settled in the courts if the sides can’t reach a deal on their own.
The NHL filed a suit this month in U.S. District Court in New York in an effort to show its lockout is legal. In a separate move, the league filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging bad-faith bargaining by the union.
Those moves were made because the players’ association took steps toward potentially filing a “disclaimer of interest,” which would dissolve the union and make it a trade association. That would allow players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NHL.
Union members voted overwhelmingly to give their board the power to file the disclaimer by Wednesday. If that deadline passes, another authorization vote could be held to approve a later filing.