The NHL Players' Association needed some overtime to work on its next offer in collective bargaining.
Donald Fehr, the NHLPA's executive director, had hoped to table a counter-proposal Thursday but instead called off the session to devote more time to drafting it. The sides are scheduled to resume talks Friday morning.
Earlier this week, the NHL put forward a proposal for a six-year contract that would see the players' share in revenue reduced to 46 per cent — something the union was unwilling to do.
However, the league viewed its second offer as a significant improvement on the initial proposal it tabled July 13, which called for players to receive a 43 per cent share and introduced a number of new contract restrictions.
With a Sept. 15 deadline looming for a lockout, deputy commissioner Bill Daly expressed hope the players would be motivated to sweeten the offer they made two weeks ago.
"We're hopeful that it's a meaningful proposal that we can continue to make progress from," Daly said Thursday. "We feel like we made a good step in that direction earlier this week and we hope that they would make a step forward as well."
As of late Thursday afternoon, Fehr had not been made available to the media.
There's a sense negotiations have reached crunch time, especially with the growing possibility the league is heading for its second lockout in as many negotiations. The NHL's business is essentially on hold while players and teams wait to see if an agreement can be reached in time for training camps to open as scheduled Sept. 21 and the regular season to start Oct. 11.
The NHL has said it will lock the players out when the current CBA expires Sept. 15. Daly believes there's still enough time to hammer out an agreement before then.
"Well obviously the clock is ticking — we're almost into September now," he said. "I would say the positive thing is I think both parties are committed . . . to meet as often as it takes to get a deal done, but obviously every day that goes by it's less and less likely that we'll be able to come to closure on all of the issues we need to come to closure on."
They haven't yet got past the first one.
The negotiations are now solely focused on the league's economic system and figuring out how revenues are divided. Even the contract issues have been pushed aside for the time being.
Part of the hangup is a philosophical difference on what the new agreement should entail, with players believing they shouldn't have to move far from the 57 per cent share they were given in the last deal and commissioner Gary Bettman suggesting Wednesday that number is not "baked in perpetuity."
The sides don't have any blackout days scheduled in the coming weeks, meaning they could conceivably bargain around the clock. Daly wouldn't even rule out the possibility of meeting through the Labour Day long weekend — provided they have matters worth discussing.
"It'll depend on the nature of the proposal, the structure of the proposal, how detailed it is," he said. "Obviously the first proposal they made on Aug. 14, we took the night to analyze it and break it down and figure it out. Depending on what this is, we may need to take time as well.
"But certainly there's nothing that would preclude us from meeting Saturday if there's a reason to meet Saturday."