Tue, Jan 01, 2013 - Page 20 News List

NHL, players’ union are likely to return to table

AP, NEW YORK

The NHL and the players’ association are ready to get back to the bargaining table.

There were no formal negotiations on Sunday, but all signs pointed to talks yesterday in an effort to end the lockout and save the season.

“There will be no further face-to-face meetings today,” the union said in a statement on Sunday. “The plan is for the sides to meet tomorrow.”

Those would be the first negotiations since the sides met with a federal mediator on Dec. 13.

The league and the union had informational discussions — by conference call and in meetings — with staff members that lasted much of Saturday and concluded on Sunday. Those talks were spurred by the nearly 300-page contract proposal the NHL presented to the union on Thursday.

All games through Jan. 14 have been canceled, claiming more than 50 percent of the original schedule. The NHL wants to reach a deal by Jan. 11 and open the season on Jan. 19, with a 48-game schedule.

Bargaining sessions with only the NHL and union have not been held since Dec. 6, when talks abruptly ended after the players’ association made a counter--proposal to the league’s previous offer. The league said that offer was contingent on the union accepting three elements unconditionally and without further bargaining.

The NHL then pulled all existing offers off the table. Two days of sessions with mediators the following week ended without progress.

A person familiar with key points of the offer said that the league proposed raising the limit of individual free-agent contracts to six years from five — seven years if a team re-signs its own player; raising the salary variance from one year to another to 10 percent, up from 5 percent; and one compliance buyout for the 2013-2014 season that would not count toward a team’s salary cap, but would be included in the overall players’ share of income.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the new offer were not being discussed publicly.

The NHL maintained the deferred payment amount of US$300 million it offered in its previous proposal, an increase from an earlier offer of US$211 million. The initial US$300 million offer was pulled after negotiations broke off this month.

The latest proposal is for 10 years, running through the 2021-2022 season, with both sides having the right to opt out after eight years.

If this offer does not quickly lead to a new collective bargaining agreement, the next round of cuts could claim the entire schedule.

The NHL is the only North American professional sports league to cancel a season because of a labor dispute, losing the 2004-2005 campaign to a lockout. A 48-game season was played in 1995 after a lockout stretched into January.

It is still possible this dispute could eventually be settled in the courts if the sides cannot reach a deal on their own.

The NHL filed a class-action suit last month in US District Court in New York in an effort to show its lockout is legal. In a separate move, the league filed an unfair labor practice charge with the US National Labor Relations Board, contending bad-faith bargaining by the union.

Those moves were made because the players’ association took steps toward potentially filing a “disclaimer of interest,” which would dissolve the union and make it a trade association. That would allow players to file anti-trust lawsuits against the NHL.

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