SUN Hockey Pool

NHL makes 'significant, meaningful' counter-offer

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (VERONICA HENRI/QMI Agency file photo)

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. (VERONICA HENRI/QMI Agency file photo)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:17 PM ET

NEW YORK - In the City That Never Sleeps, the NHL Players Association burned the midnight oil through Tuesday evening.

They were reviewing the first sign of life in the gloomy collective bargaining talks, a counterproposal from commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners that might be impetus to avert a Sept. 15 lockout.

"Significant, with meaningful movement," is how Bettman phrased the offer to re-work core economic issues with appeal for both sides, which he gave union boss Donald Fehr on Tuesday morning.

The union's definition will likely be different, but at least they're still here.

"I'm trying to get us on to the same page, I'm trying to get us on to a common language," Bettman said. "We felt in order to move the process along and hopefully engage the union in a way that would bring a negotiation that had traction, we tried to address the fundamental issues they were raising, in a way they're looking at the world. Hopefully this will do that."

Should this potential new avenue to a settlement fail, Bettman refused to speculate on that signalling a lockout countdown.

Just the four point-men, Bettman, deputy Bill Daly, Fehr and brother Steve, had gathered at league offices for what was expected to be a week of obfuscation leading to the shutdown. But the Fehrs thought enough of the league overture to take a four-hour break to study it with high ranking players and the legal team. When they returned to the NHL quarters, Fehr had brought three players along and agreed to make a detailed examination through the evening as more rank and file arrive in New York, then resume talks Wednesday afternoon.

Given the strong disdain each side demonstrated for the other in the 2004-05 lockout, there were some worries the Fehrs weren't coming back after the morning session and the a third shutdown in 18 years was in the cards.

How far the league came off its previously staunch position on reducing the players' 57% share of hockey-related revenues remains to be seen.

"It is different in some respects than what they've done before," said Fehr, who received a very hard-line position on revenues and contract lengths from the league at the start of the month. "With respect to some things there was some considerable detail; with respect to others, not very much. I certainly assume there's a willingness to provide additional details (Wednesday). I don't want to characterize it yet until we have studied it.

"It's a proposal we intend to respond to and I will leave it at that."

Bettman continues to insist the two sides aren't far apart on revenue sharing, about $50-million between their proposed pools, the players at $240-million US, the NHL $190-million.

When the league started boldly talking of chopping the hockey related revenues to 43%, contracts to a maximum five years and tightening of free agency, the players came back with a willingness to ease on their lucrative revenue percentage if the owners could fix money-losing franchises and grow the game.

It was decided last week after little movement in talks in Toronto that the big four negotiators should take a few days for "homework" and re-assemble in New York. The sides had made loose promises to take a look at each other's most recent ideas, a change from the last lockout when each shot down the rival's lengthy proposals with hardly a glance.

"I don't feel better or worse," a coy Donald Fehr said of the chances a deal has improved in the past 24 hours.

The three players who accompanied the Fehrs on Tuesday were Montreal Canadiens' Mathieu Darche, Douglas Murray of the San Jose Sharks and Ron Hainsey of the Winnipeg Jets.

"I'm encouraged because we're talking," Darche said.

Smaller groups from both sides are expected to meet throughout this week to get moving on various other issues that were pushed to the side by the larger battle over revenues.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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