One day after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman promised the league would lock out its players if a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was not in place by Sept. 15, representatives from both the NHL and the players' association exuded an air of optimism that the season could start on time.
The league and the NHLPA met for nearly three hours Friday at the NHL offices. The session was centred around hockey issues, specifically an appeals process for supplemental discipline and the lengths of training camps.
"We thought it was a good session," said Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey, who spoke for the NHLPA following the session. "Constructive. We reflected on the whole process. Discipline, ice conditions, training camp, travel."
The league and players have routinely said during the negotiations that the sides have found agreement on many non-core economic issues. However, the lack of an independent appellate process for supplemental discipline is a point of contention for the players. Under the current CBA, only Bettman hears appeals of NHL Senior Vice-President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan's rulings.
Of course, all of this is secondary to the NHLPA finally submitting a counterproposal to the league's first offer. That is expected to come early next week in Toronto. The two sides will meet at the NHLPA's offices there the next two weeks, starting Tuesday. It is believed the players will submit their counter right off the bat, allowing immediate time for discussion.
The NHL presented its proposal on July 13. It asked for the players to accept a reduction in hockey-related revenue from 57 per cent to 46 per cent. The NHLPA maintains that the mathematics involved means the final number is closer to 43 per cent.
As for Friday, the big issues were clearly skirted around. Discipline rose to the surface, and in particular, the case of Phoenix left wing Raffi Torres, who was suspended 25 games for elbowing Chicago right wing Marian Hossa under the chin in the playoffs. Torres appealed the suspension May 17, and the league announced July 2 that the suspension had been cut to 21 games.
"Raffi has come up in conversation," Hainsey said. "[The players are] very interested in the whole process."
Which is no surprise.
"They want some changes," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "We're still in a process of exploring what they proposed."
More than anything else, though, it seemed like posturing as the counterproposal continues to be waited on. Time is of the essence for the players and owners after Bettman's Thursday vow of a lockout.
"We are looking forward to the proposal," Daly said. "[It] gives you a better sense of how close or how far apart we are. It gives us a benchmark of where we are on economic issues. What we proposed had a variety of different elements. [I] don't think [the players'] elements are vastly different."
Hainsey acknowledged the players have been prepared for the league to use the threat of a lockout as leverage. It was only a matter of time.
"We knew that was an option. [We're] focused on [presenting] our proposal on Tuesday," Hainsey said. "We were well aware [of] Sept. 15."
The regular season is slated to begin on Oct. 11.