The NHL and the players’ association were engaged in deep and, sources say, productive negotiations late Saturday night in New York. While the sides weren’t expected to break with a new collective bargaining agreement, they might be on the verge of ending a lockout that reached its 113th day Sunday.
After two days of meeting separately with federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh, the league and the union met face to face Saturday, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union executive Don Fehr were present for what could be the “end game” before a deal is struck.
Beckenbaugh was involved in the group discussion — something also seen as a positive because he has been instrumental in bridging the gap in recent days.
“It’s been a long day already and meetings are continuing,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Post-Dispatch late Saturday night. “Dialogue has been good and there has been a healthy give and take. We resolved some open issues, but still have a number to go.”
An agreement might not have been imminent on the day the league and union resumed negotiations, following a breakdown in talks Thursday, but the odds are increasing that a deal could be in place in the next 24-48 hours. If so, the plan would be for training camps to open on Jan. 12, and the regular season to start on Jan. 19.
The belief has been that the NHL is interested in a 48-game schedule — down from the usual 82-game slate — but reports late Saturday suggested that the possibility of a 50- or even 52-game season exist.
Although many observers of this lockout have said a shortened season starting in mid-January was the probable scenario all along, the chances of it playing out as expected seemed unlikely even a couple of days ago. But it now seems plausible after the NHL and union made progress on key issues Saturday.
There has been movement from both sides, including on the major stumbling block in the negotiations: the salary cap for the 2013-14 season.
The salary cap for this season, set last summer, is $70.2 million. After the NHL and union agreed on a 50-50 split in hockey-related revenue (with the condition that the league pay $300 million toward existing players contracts), the sides haven’t been able to come together on the cap ceiling for next season. The league had proposed $60 million and the union $65 million, but the sides appear to be shrinking the difference and are perhaps as close as $1.8 million.
That development comes after earlier reports that the sides have settled on a 10-year CBA with a mutual opt-out clause after eight years, which is what the NHL was proposing. They also might have closed the book on the players’ pension plan, an issue that cropped up again after it was believed to have been settled.
Once the salary cap for 2013-14 has been finalized, one of the top remaining issues would be player contracts, regarding maximum length and year-to-year percentage variance. Those issues have been on the table for a while and may take more time to be resolved, but the differences aren’t considered significant enough that they would pose as a potential deal breaker.
The cause for the traction in talks Saturday could be the return of the union’s leverage to file a ‘disclaimer of interest’ letter to the NHL.
A vote to authorize its executive board the power to file the disclaimer letter ended Saturday and members again overwhelmingly supported it. The move came three days after the union decided against filing the disclaimer, which is a step taken before voting to dissolve the union and turn it into a trade association. In that event, the league would lose its anti-trust exemptions and face potential lawsuits.
The union believed that after a deadline to file the disclaimer passed, progress in the talks stalled because the threat of it no longer existed. Whether a second vote among players lit a fire under the league, negotiations have progressed again and appear to be creating a path to a long-awaited deal.
Distributed by MCT Information Services