Gary Bettman strode through the doors of the National Hockey League’s Times Square office on Tuesday night, bringing a cautiously optimistic message with him for one of the few times since the 108-day lockout of the players began.
Speaking at the end of a 30-minute meeting with Donald Fehr and the NHLPA’s bargaining committee, the commissioner seemed to indicate that talks on a new collective agreement had settled into the last, hard push to a resolution.
The league had just presented a new counter-offer to the union, one that came off a counter from the players the day before.
"In our response, there were certain things the players’ association asked for that we agreed to, there were some things that we moved in their direction, and there were other things that we said no, but that’s part of the process," said Bettman, looking tired in an ice-blue sweater on a cold New York night.
A few minutes before, Fehr spoke with the media, saying the union would look at the new counter-offer from the league overnight.
"We spent half an hour or so with the owners committee, they made a comprehensive response to what we gave them yesterday," he said. "We asked a couple of questions, now what we have to do is go over the document, try to make some sense out of it, compare it and see what the appropriate thing is to do next.
"We’ll start tonight, continue in the morning and be in touch with them sometime tomorrow morning."
Union's court option expires Wednesday
Wednesday also brings another key date in the bargaining, as at 11:59 p.m. ET the union must file a disclaimer of interest in court — which would begin the process of disbanding the union and change the tenor of the debate. Sources believe this may be a reason both sides are pushing hard now for a deal.
Once Wednesday passes, the final major date seems to be just over a week away.
In order to get a 48-game season in, something Bettman feels is an absolute minimum, play must start by Jan. 19. Add in a week of training camp and a day for medicals, and the drop dead date seems to be Jan. 11.
Items thought to still be on the negotiating table include:
- The term of the deal (Bettman wants 10 years with an opt-out for either side at eight, while the players want no more than seven).
- Variance (the difference between what a contract pays in its first and later years).
- Buy out provisions (that would allow a team to choose one contract and buy it out without counting it against the salary cap).
- The size of the cap itself.
League sources indicate Bettman is looking at a cap of $60-million US in the first year of a deal, while the players want $67 million.
Escrow itself deals with the holding back of a player’s money during a season until league-wide profits are determined the following summer. If the players as a whole have earned more than an even split of those profits, the monies held in escrow go to the league.
If it's less than even, each athlete gets money back.