After covering the last two days of discussions in this latest round of the lockout, my sense---for the first time in months---is that both sides are serious about making a deal. This could still go sideways, but I believe they are inching toward one.
The good news is that the sides are still talking and swapping proposals.
With a deadline looming to salvage at least a 48-game season, the NHL tonight presented a response to Monday's counteroffer on a new collective-bargaining agreement by the players association, and the union was reviewing it before resuming discussions on Wednesday.
"They made a comprehensive response, we have to go through the document and see what the appropriate thing is to do next," said union executive director Donald Fehr about 10 p.m after an hour-long meeting with league negotiators. He said he expected to meet again Wednesday.
Negotiators for the NHL, including Commissioner Gary Bettman, and the NHLPA had met at league offices in Manhattan on Tuesday for the second day, first in small group sessions, beginning at noon and ending about 5 p.m. to discuss revenue-sharing and pension issues. Bettman later said there was movement in the PA's direction in some areas, agreements in others and no answers on other issues. "We're not keeping score," he said. "We're just trying to get an agreement done." He also termed the talks "a continuous process."
There were reports that the union would agree to the NHL's request for a 10-year pact, if the league moved in other areas.
It was the first time since Dec. 13 that the two leaders had met face to face for consecutive days. The pressure is on because a drop-dead date is looming.
“We need to drop the puck by Jan. 19 if we’re going to play a 48-game season,” Bettman reiterated Monday night. “We don’t think it makes sense to play a season that is any shorter than that.”
With the need for training camps, an agreement would have to be forged by Jan. 11. Some players are returning from Europe, where some have played. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist tweeted Tuesday that he is returning from Sweden.
Although the league and the players have agreed on a 50-50 share of hockey-related revenues, issues remain. The owners are proposing a pro-rated $70.2-million salary cap this season, and a $60-million cap in 2013-14, based on $3.3 billion in revenues in 2011-12. The players want a higher cap in ’13-14, and a limit to their annual escrow payments.
NHL officials had reviewed the players’ counteroffer of about 30 pages, presented about 2:15 p.m. Monday, until around midnight New Year’s Eve. The amended NHL offer, close to 300 pages, and which included some softened stances on contracts and buyouts, was initially sent to the union late Thursday.
In all, 625 regular-season games have been canceled (through Jan. 14), including yesterday Tuesday’s Winter Classic between Toronto and Detroit in Ann Arbor, Mich., which was to have attracted more than 100,000 fans. Since the lockout began Sept. 15, it has cost players six of their 13 paychecks for the season, and the league has lost hundreds of millions.