NHL lockout: Sides expected to get back to table today

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NEW YORK -- The NHL and the players' association are ready to get back to the bargaining table.

There were no formal negotiations Sunday, but all signs pointed to talks today in an effort to end the lockout and save the season.

"There will be no further face-to-face meetings today," the union said Sunday in a statement. "The plan is for the sides to meet tomorrow."

Those would be the first negotiations since the sides met with a federal mediator Dec. 13.

The league and the union had informational discussions -- by conference call and in meetings -- with staff members that lasted much of Saturday and concluded Sunday. Those talks were spurred by the nearly 300-page contract proposal the NHL presented Thursday to the union.

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 Jan. 19, with a 48-game schedule.

Bargaining sessions with only the NHL and union haven't been held since Dec. 6, when talks abruptly ended after the players' association made a counterproposal to the league's previous offer. The league said that offer was contingent on the union accepting three elements unconditionally 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 the offer said 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 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.

The latest proposal is for 10 years, running through the 2021-22 season, with both sides having the right to opt out after eight years.

If this offer doesn't quickly lead to a new collective bargaining agreement, the next round of cuts could claim the entire schedule.

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.

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