With an 82-game schedule hanging in the balance, the NHL Players' Association Thursday is expected to deliver its formal objections to the league's latest contract offer -- which, in an unexpected move, was made public on the league's website.
The counterproposal, to be presented this afternoon in Toronto, could signal how close the sides are to ending the lockout, which has included cancellation of two weeks of games.
"Simply put, the owners' new proposal, while not quite as Draconian as their previous proposals, still represents enormous reductions in player salaries and individual contracting rights," union executive director Donald Fehr wrote in a letter to players and agents, according to TSN and Sportsnet. "As you will see, at the five-percent industry growth rate the owners predict, the salary reduction over six years exceeds $1.6 billion. What do the owners offer in return?"
Along with its 10-point proposal, which includes a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues and contract limits, another document given to the players, and on nhl.com, underscored the urgency of the talks.
"Delay [beyond Oct. 25] will necessarily leave us with an abbreviated season and will require the cancellation of signature NHL events," it states, likely a reference to the Jan. 1 Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs to be staged in Ann Arbor, Mich. and televised by NBC. "Failure to reach a prompt agreement will also have other significant and detrimental impacts on our fans, the game, our clubs, our business and the communities in which we play. All of this will obviously necessitate changes to this offer in the event we are unsuccessful in saving a full season."
The NHL hopes a deal can be finalized and approved by a vote of the players by Oct. 25, training camps could open the next day, and a condensed season could begin Nov. 2.
It remains unclear if an agreement can be reached in time for that scenario, or if a shortened season is acceptable. Much depends on the league's response to the PA's counteroffer, and how much room for compromise is available.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that releasing "precise terms of an offer to the workforce is commonly done and is perfectly legal, as long as there is no attempt to undermine Union leadership, which there wasn't in this case." In an e-mail to the National Post, he said, "it was done only responsively to counter selective leaks and mischaracterizations about the terms and details of the proposal."