NHL, union to continue talks on New Year's Day

Meetings between the National Hockey League and the union broke off on Monday night after an afternoon of point and counter-point in New York.

League discussing NHLPA's counter-offer as midnight approaches

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been speaking to large media scrums in front of the league office for months now, such as here in November. On Monday, he was joined by a street full of New Year's Eve revellers. (Louis Lanzano/Associated Press)

The National Hockey League will spend Monday evening reviewing a "comprehensive" counter-proposal from its union as the sides work towards solving a 107-day lockout.

Commissioner Gary Bettman, surrounded by a mass of revelers headed for one of the world's most famous New Year's Eve parties, told a media scrum outside of league headquarters they would be working into the night.

"We are in the process of reviewing [the union's] response, we will do that tonight," he said, as passers-by blew horns and yelled greetings to each other. "We will contact them tomorrow morning and we should get together, certainly by mid-day."

Bettman said Monday’s meeting was "an opportunity for the players' association to highlight the areas they thought we should focus on."

Donald Fehr, head of the NHLPA, brought a counter-offer to the NHL just after 2 p.m. local time and the sides spent about three hours in discussion.

"I’m not going to make any judgments, we’ll just have to wait and see," Fehr said afterwards, of how he would characterize the meetings. "We'll make our responses in due course at appropriate times."

Asked whether the players would go ahead with filing a Disclaimer of Interest in court by a deadline on Jan. 2, one that would begin the process of disbanding the union and possibly throw the talks into chaos, Fehr was clear.

"Players retain all the legal options they always have had, those things are internal matters and we don't discuss them."

Time is short to come up with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), one the league believes must be in place by Jan. 11 in order for a shorted 48-game season to begin on Jan. 19.

The NHL presented a major proposal to the NHLPA last Thursday night that ran to 288 pages and included a summary of key points, a Memorandum of Understanding with more detail, and a long legal document.

Union representatives went over the package on Saturday and Sunday, holding information discussions with the league by phone and face-to-face.

Under the NHL's new proposal, term limits of the deal would be 10 years, with a mutual opt-out at eight, maximum contract length would be six years, or seven if re-signing your own player, and it includes a $300-million fund to guarantee much of the existing contracts.

Points also went over variance (the difference between what a contract pays in its first and later years), buy out provisions (the right to take one overvalued contract and buy that player out) and escrow terms.

That last point may be a sticky one as it deals with the holding back of a percentage of a player’s money during a year until league-wide profits are determined the following summer.

If the players have earned less than a 50-50 split of overall revenues, they would receive monies from escrow. If they have earned more, the escrow goes to the league.

Discussion are expected to revolve around how much of the salary would be held back, players reportedly wanting no more than 10 per cent, the league wanting as much as 25 per cent, depending on the source. 

In addition, the NHL is thought to want a salary cap of $60-million US for 2013-2014, while the players want around $67-million. There are as many as a dozen teams already at the $60-million mark who would have to shed a number of their contracts through trades in order to fill a full roster.

Over 100 players are currently free agents, adding to the problem.

More than 50 per cent of the schedule (625 games), has been lost to the lockout.