NEW YORK — The NHL issued a new proposal to the players' association Tuesday as a lockout looms next month.
And at least one side is happy about it.
"We believe," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, "that we made a significant, meaningful step."
Time will tell, but at least NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and his players have another proposal — the league's second this summer — to digest. The two sides will meet again on Wednesday at the NHL offices.
A less optimistic Fehr labeled the offering "a proposal that we intend to respond to." Meanwhile, Bettman called it a "counterproposal" to the offer the players presented to the league earlier this month. In that proposal, the players had offered to take two-, four- and six-percent reductions in Hockey Related Revenue for the first three years of a new collective bargaining agreement.
"We felt in order to move the process along," Bettman said, "we tried to address the fundamental issues."
Neither the league nor the players would divulge specifics of the proposal, although Montreal forward Mathieu Darche said he was "encouraged."
"We had a lot of people at the office evaluating the proposal," said Darche, who estimated he received "20, 25 texts" from players asking for details of the different proposal. "It didn't take them five minutes to write it and it won't take us five minutes to read it."
The current CBA expires Sept. 15 and the NHL has said it will lock the players out if a new deal isn't reached.
Limiting the personnel at the bargaining table in the hope of making progress, only Fehr and his top assistant, Steve Fehr, met with Bettman and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly on Tuesday morning when the proposal was issued. Traditionally, several players have joined in on the talks.
Tuesday's session was the second time in six days that the meeting was limited to just the four executives. They met for two hours last Wednesday in Toronto, exclusively. That meeting was to discuss the state of the negotiations.
"We don't know the answer to that," Fehr said when asked if the smaller meetings jumpstarted the negotiating process. "If it doesn't (work), we'll find another way."
After the sessions in Toronto, the return to New York was a strange one for both sides. Negotiations resumed in the morning, as planned, but then took a slight break while Fehr left the building. Upon exiting, he told reporters talks had paused just for a bit.
"I think the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances is go back (to our office). We've got constituents and so on," Fehr said at the time. "And so we'll see you later on I'm sure."
He eventually returned to confirm the proposal, and was joined by player representatives this time. Fehr was accompanied by Darche, San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray and Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey.
Tuesday's session was billed as "core economic," and if nothing else, the players now have more to work with.
"I'm trying to get us on to the same page," Bettman said. "I'm trying to get us on to a common language."
But, clearly, he knows what he's up against. In fact, following the session, Bettman said he wouldn't "feel better about this process until it is successfully completed." He defined successful completion as having "a collective bargaining agreement."
Time's running out for that.
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