It took nearly three weeks and a new contract offer to get the fighting sides in hockey’s latest labour dispute back to the bargaining table.
While nothing concrete was announced Sunday, the players’ association made a counter offer on Monday afternoon, according to The Canadian Press. But no details were immediately available.
Both the league and the union are quite aware that the window to reach a deal to save the season is rapidly closing. No one has said exactly how much time remains, but the belief is the NHL wants a season to start no later than Jan. 19.
That leaves a little less than two weeks to reach an agreement and stage one week of training camp before the puck would drop on a 48-game season.
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 to the union Thursday.
After the union huddled for internal discussions once those were over, the players’ association said it wouldn’t meet with the NHL on Sunday night but figured to get together with the league on Monday.
“There will be no further face-to-face meetings today,” the union said 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.
All games through Jan. 14 have been cancelled, claiming more than 50 per cent 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 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 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 per cent, up from 5 per cent; 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.
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 labour 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 could eventually be settled in the courts if the sides can’t reach a deal on their own.
The NHL filed a class-action 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 labour practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, contending 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.