Another marathon session of collective bargaining agreement negotiations has wrapped in New York.
The NHL Players' Association submitted another proposal for the NHL to evaluate Wednesday while the league countered on key issues later in the day. The two sides spent hours at the bargaining table with talks ending shortly before 1am local time.
Addressing the media just before 1:30 am local time, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly was brief in his assessment of the day's talks.
He described the talks as "good, candid dialogue" but mentioned that critical issues remain unresolved between the two parties. He stated that he expected those issues to be addressed during Thursday's negotiations.
The league's offer Wednesday night offered a raise in money devoted to the 'make-whole' provision. The number in the latest offer jumped to $300 million, up from $211 million in the league's previous offer. The players had previously asked for $389 million, making the owners' latest offer an exact middle ground between the previous offer and the players' demands. However, of that proposed $300 million only $250 million would go towards a 'make-whole' provision with the remaining $50 million going towards pension funding that would not come out of the players' share.
The proposal submitted was for a 10-year term for the next CBA with an opt-out clause after eight years. The rules governing unrestricted free agency and salary arbitration would remain unchanged from last season. The league did not budge on its request for a five-year term limit on player contracts and held firm to a maximum year-to-year salary variance of five per cent.
The league's offer did, however, offer an exception on contract lengths for the re-signing of free agents. Teams would be allowed to re-sign their own free agents to contracts up to seven years in duration.
Reports indicate that negotiations almost fell apart in the middle of the evening amid frustrations that momentum had not carried over from Tuesday's discussions. However, both sides returned to the table after a brief hiatus and continued negotiating into the early morning.
A tight-lipped Gary Bettman briefly addressed the media on earlier in the afternoon as the league and the union prepared for another bargaining session to come up with a collective bargaining agreement and save the 2012-13 season.
"We are pleased with the process that is ongoing and out of respect for the process, I'm not going to take any questions," the NHL commissioner told reporters.
The NHLPA will meet internally on Thursday morning with both sides expected to resume talks at some point later in the day.
According to sources, the owners discussed a possible season that would span 50-plus games. There had been talk of a 60-game schedule in the event of a labour settlement, but the feeling among the group was that it would be too ambitious at this stage.
In keeping with Tuesday's arrangements, a grouping of six NHL owners and 18 players met through the afternoon and into the night on without either Bettman or union chief Donald Fehr in attendance.
"I appreciate the efforts of the players, in particular we had 18 players in there (Tuesday) and six of our owners," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said after the nearly eight-hour meeting on Tuesday. "I think everybody is working hard. I think everybody wants to get a deal done, so I think that's encouraging."
The players' contingent for Wednesday included Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews and teammate Jamal Mayers, Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller, Vancouver forward Manny Malhotra, St. Louis forward David Backes, Florida's George Parros, Rangers center Brad Richards, Tampa Bay veteran Martin St. Louis and teammate B.J. Crombeen, Los Angeles forward Kevin Westgarth, Phoenix captain Shane Doan, Pittsburgh's Craig Adams, Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey, Edmonton's Shawn Horcoff, Calgary centre Michael Cammalleri, Anaheim forward Daniel Winnik along with Chris Campoli and Mathieu Darche.
Both sides have also cleared their schedules for the rest of the week, requesting an adjournment to a hearing with the Quebec Labour Board in Montreal concerning the legality of locking out players from the Canadiens. That meeting, originally scheduled for Thursday and Friday, now will be pushed back.
Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr surprised the waiting media when they stood side-by-side after Tuesday's meeting while making their statements to the media.
"I thought it was a constructive day, we had a good dialogue," Fehr said. "In some ways I'd say it might be the best day we've had, which isn't to paint too overly optimistic of a picture. There's still a lot of work to do and a lot to be done, but we will be back at it (Wednesday) morning."
The owners were represented by chairman of the NHL's board of governors, Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins. He was joined by Murray Edwards of the Calgary Flames, as well as Pittsburgh's Ron Burkle, Tampa's Jeff Vinik, Mark Chipman of the new Winnipeg franchise and Larry Tanenbaum of the Maple Leafs.
Both sides met for more than five hours, broke in the evening, then reconvened nearly two hours later until finally resting for good shortly after Midnight et.
Bettman first suggested the idea of a face-to-face meeting between owners and players without some of the usual representatives from either side involved in the collective bargaining sessions.
The two factions met twice last week with the involvement of federal mediators, but the process was unsuccessful as it had been during the 2004-05 lockout.
The current work stoppage, which began Sept. 16, has already forced the cancellation of regular-season games through Dec. 14, as well as the Winter Classic and All-Star Weekend.