The National Hockey League (NHL) and locked-out players appeared closer to a new labor deal that would salvage a partial season after Wednesday’s midnight deadline passed without the union filing a disclaimer of interest and dissolving.
With the lockout reaching its 110th day, negotiations began under an NHL Players Association (NHLPA) threat to decertify, freeing individual players to file anti-trust lawsuits against the league.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters that the union never played the disclaimer card during any negotiations, and that both parties and a US mediator would be back at the bargaining table at 10am yesterday.
“The word ‘disclaimer’ has yet to be uttered to us by the players association,” Bettman said as he left meetings at the league’s Manhattan offices.
“When you disclaim interest as a union you notify the other side. We have not been notified. It has never been discussed, so there is no disclaimer,” he added.
While one deadline passed, another is looming large on the horizon, Bettman having set a Jan. 19 limit for the puck to drop on a shortened 48-game schedule.
With the clock ticking, both Bettman and NHLPA chief Donald Fehr could agree on one thing — that much work needs to be done if there is to be a season.
“If you have a river to cross you have to build a bridge or do something else if you are going to cross the river,” Fehr said. “We’ve moved closer on some issues, but work remains to be done.”
The two sides have spent three days in New York exchanging proposals and counter-proposals, and appeared to inching slowly towards a deal.
The back-and-forth diplomacy continued on Wednesday, with a long session that began at 8pm stretching into yesterday morning.
There have been indications that the two sides are close to agreement on major issues — such has how to split US$3.3 billion in revenue, contract lengths and revenue sharing, but they remain far apart on others.
Player pension plans and how they are funded has suddenly popped up as the hot topic along with where the salary cap ceiling should be set.
The league wants a cap locked in at US$60 million, while the players are believed to be seeking something in the US$65 million to US$67 million range.