NHL players began examining the league's proposed expansion of revenue sharing in the latest round of labour talks on Tuesday.
NHL Players' Association executive director Don Fehr said he can't make a counterproposal on the league's full package, which included a decrease in hockey-related revenue, term limits on contracts and a 22 per cent salary rollback, until his group receives and examines requested team financial reports. The first batch — 76,000 pages — arrived late Monday night.
The meetings will continue Wednesday at the NHL offices in New York as the sides work to try to avoid another lockout that would threaten the upcoming season. More talks are scheduled next week when Fehr returns from a meeting with NHL players in Russia.
While both sides acknowledged negotiations are amicable and constructive, Fehr said players clearly are "not enamoured" with proposed limitations on contract lengths and a clause that would force them to wait longer before becoming unrestricted free agents.
Fehr wouldn't even say if he is encouraged by the revenue-sharing proposal.
"We haven't evaluated the changes from current revenue sharing to determine whether we think it's the appropriate thing to do or if it misses the mark in some respect," Fehr said.
Eleven players attended Tuesday's meetings: Craig Adams (Pittsburgh Penguins), Dan Cleary (Detroit Red Wings), BJ Crombeen (Tampa Bay Lightning), Mathieu Darche (Montreal Canadiens), Shawn Horcoff (Edmonton Oilers), Steve Montador (Chicago Blackhawks), George Parros (Florida Panthers), Cory Schneider (Vancouver Canucks), Kevin Westgarth (Los Angeles Kings), Ryan Whitney (Edmonton Oilers) and Keith Yandle (Phoenix Coyotes).
Yandle's team has struggled financially and would benefit from revenue sharing's increased subsidies. He declined comment on Tuesday.
Three owners also attended the talks — Washington's Ted Leonsis, Minnesota's Craig Leipold and Boston's Jeremy Jacobs — along with general managers Brian Burke of Toronto and Jim Rutherford of Carolina.
'Ample time to make a deal'
Though the calendar is turning to August, leaving just six weeks before the current CBA expires, no one was pressing the panic button during the sixth straight week of talks.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he believes there is "ample time to make a deal" now that all league proposal are on the table. The NHL cancelled the entire 2004-05 season before the current collective bargaining agreement was finally reached seven years ago.
Fehr declined comment on the pace of the current negotiations.
"All I've said is Sept. 15 is not a magic date unless someone wants to make it so," Fehr said. "There's nothing that happens on Sept. 15 if we don't have an agreement, provided nobody says we're going to go on strike or says we're going to lock the doors."
He said the two sides will just continue working toward an agreement.
While various subcommittees have discussed everything from ice conditions and player pensions to grievance procedure in past sessions, core economic issues are now at the centre of the talks.
Players currently receive 57 per cent of hockey-related revenues, and reports indicate the initial league proposal on July 13 asked that it be reduced to 46 per cent.
The owners want to extend rookie contracts to five years from the current three, and they want to cap all contract lengths at five years.
As for revenue sharing, it remains a key to the health of the league to keep the poorest teams financially stable.
The NHL has had two seasons disrupted by labour disputes over the past two decades. In addition to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, almost half of the 1994-95 season was wiped out by a labour dispute. Training camps are scheduled to start on Sept. 16, one day after the current CBA ends. The regular season is slated to begin on Oct. 11.
While Fehr continued to ask for financial documents, Bettman claimed the players' association already had much of the information.
"We're doing our best to comply with all of their requests regardless of whether we think they are relevant," Bettman said.