The two sides in the NHL labour dispute are planning to discuss a new offer from the league by phone on Saturday afternoon, multiple reports say.
And if all goes well, they could get together by the end of the weekend — tentatively in New York, according to The Associated Press — for the first face-to-face meetings since Dec. 13 with hopes of putting together a new collective bargaining agreement and avoiding a cancellation of the season.
These breakthroughs come after the league presented a comprehensive proposal to the players' union on Thursday night and the NHLPA held its own meetings by conference call with the executive board and negotiating committee on Friday afternoon.
"This is going to be an interesting weekend," a player, who wished to remain anonymous, told CBC Sports.
'We want to be back on the ice as soon as possible.' —Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner
Owners, facing mounting pressure to avoid a second cancelled season in eight years, made the new offer to the players on Thursday night.
Bill Daly, the league’s deputy commissioner, confirmed the offer had been delivered, but would offer no insight.
"We are not prepared to discuss the details of our proposal at this time," he said in a statement. "We are hopeful that once the union's staff and negotiating committee have had an opportunity to thoroughly review and consider our new proposal, they will share it with the players. We want to be back on the ice as soon as possible."
Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada says the new proposal includes changes to term limits of the deal, with a previously withdrawn $300-million US make-whole provision on contracts back on the table.
There would also be one compliance contract buyout — that would help players transition from the previous system where they received 57 per cent of revenue to one that pays them 50 per cent — per team that does count against the players’ overall share in revenue, but does not count against the salary cap.
In addition, sources say the length of the new CBA would still be 10 years, as the league preferred, with a mutual buyout at eight.
The Canadian Press reports the league’s offer calls for player contract limits of six years. The owners had originally wanted five. However, teams would be able to re-sign their own players for seven years.
Friedman also confirms that within the league's offer, a 48-game season has to start no later than Jan. 19. There are reports that the NHL wants a deal in place by Jan. 5, allowing for a week of legal paperwork to be completed in order to open training camps on Jan. 12. By this scenario, there would be six days of camps before the season begins.
However, a source told The Canadian Press that the deal is contingent on the NHLPA signing off on a new CBA by Jan. 11.
Coach's Corner commentator Don Cherry believes the NHL's offer is a good step forward.
"Nice move by the NHL. They came back and bent a little with the $300 million back on. Moving to 6 year [contract] signing instead of the 5," Cherry tweeted.
"They were the first to say lets negotiate. Fehr will likely come back with an 8 year deal and settle on 7. He will not go for the 10 years."
Hundreds of games cancelled
Friday is Day 104 of the NHL lockout. All games through Jan. 14 have already been cancelled.
So far, 625 contests – more than 50 per cent of the schedule – have been wiped out, along with the Winter Classic featuring the Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs in Detroit on New Year's Day, and the all-star game at Columbus, Ohio.
Most of the recent action in the lockout has been pointed toward the courts, after the players gave their blessing to filing a disclaimer of interest that would dissolve the union.
CBC Sports columnist Tim Wharnsby said this would open the door for the National Hockey League Players' Association to file antitrust suits against the league.
NHL lawyers were also busy, launching a class-action suit in Federal Court, and an unfair labour practice complaint with the U.S. Labour Relations Board.
The threat of antitrust lawsuits set the groundwork for deals in the National Football League and National Basketball Association last year.