In a significant move toward sparking negotiations to end the month-old lockout and salvage an entire season, the NHL Tuesday presented a sweeping proposal that calls for a 50-50 split in revenues with the players' association, no rollbacks in existing contracts, and a condensed 82-game season that would begin Nov. 2.
"It was done in the spirit of getting a deal done," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who delivered the proposal, which had been in the works for days, to the top union negotiators in Toronto. "We have about nine or 10 days to get this all put to bed, signed, sealed and delivered in order for this offer to be effective and for us to move forward."
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"We need to review it and understand it," said NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who met with Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Fehr initially called the offer, which he said is for at least six years, "an improvement in some respects" and that "we share the view" of aiming for an 82-game season. "I would like to believe that it will be an excellent starting point."
Union leaders hosted a conference call with the PA's executive board Tuesday and a counterproposal is expected late Wednesday or Thursday.
A revised 82-game season would mean each team would have to play an extra game every five or six weeks, and some games would be added to the end of the schedule in April. If a deal is reached by Oct. 25, training camps would open Oct. 26.
All the details of the proposal were not revealed Tuesday, but the main elements are:
The league and the players would split hockey-related revenues 50-50 in each year of the deal. The players had been receiving 57 percent under the last contract; the NHL's first proposal, rejected by the union, offered 43 percent. Although Bettman cited no "rollback," it is believed some salary would have to be deferred in the first year and paid back in fixed annual amounts over the term of a player's contract.
Free-agency eligibility would rise to 28 years old, or after eight seasons, from age 27 and seven years. The first NHL offer was age 30 and 10 years.
Five-year limits on new, non-entry level contracts. There had been no limit.
Three-year entry-level contracts would be cut to two years and salary arbitration would remain in place. The NHL had proposed five-year entry-level contracts and abolishing arbitration.
An increase in revenue-sharing for financially struggling teams to $200 million a year, up from about $170 million.
A salary cap for 2012-13 of $70.2 million, but with a twist: Players on one-way contracts sent to the AHL would count against the cap. In the previous deal, they didn't.
The league locked out the players on Sept. 15, when the previous CBA expired. Talks stalled in the past month, and the preseason schedule, as well as the first two weeks of the regular season, comprised of 82 games, was canceled through next Wednesday.