It looked as though we would see some traction Wednesday in the NHL contract talks, with strong indications by late morning that the lockout could be coming to a close. The Players Association put an offer on the table that in significant portions mirrored what NHL owners offered them Oct. 16.
But shortly after 3 p.m. it was clear, based on comments by union leader Donald Fehr after talks broke off for the day, that the league remained unimpressed by the players’ offer.
“No reciprocity in any meaningful sense,’’ said Fehr, referring to some of the major issues the players’ offer addressed.
About an hour after the meeting broke up, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told the media, “We are still very far apart.’’ However, he did acknowledge that the NHLPA’s offer moved toward the league’s proposal and that the day’s talks yielded some progress.
It’s possible that talks will resume Friday, following the Thanksgiving holiday.
It took the NHLPA slightly more than five weeks to reckon with the harsh reality that the owners are serious about gaining major financial givebacks, and Wednesday’s response more closely resembled the “50/50’’ offer that owners put on the table in October. In essence, the players finally were prepared to split in half the game’s gross revenues, which last year totaled some $3.3 billion.
The offer had the players accepting the even split (a drop from their 57 percent share each of the last seven years) while also requesting that the owners allocate an additional $182 million toward the contentious “make whole’’ provision that addresses the value of player contracts already on the books.
In its last offer, the league earmarked $211 million toward that provision, and now the players want a total of $393 million, paid over four years. No doubt that will take some protracted jawboning, especially in light of the league’s negative overall response Wednesday.
Other than an offer to amend the contentious long-term back-diving contracts, which have been a way for teams to ease salary cap burdens, the players’ offer did not address many of the key language/rights amendments that owners demanded.
However, conventional wisdom in recent weeks has been that owners would relent on many of these if the NHLPA came around to the 50/50 split and peace could be made on the “make whole’’ issue.
The two sides met for a couple of hours in the morning, then broke for lunch, and were back at the bargaining table around 1:30 p.m.
The players’ offer was for five years, terminating at the end of the 2016-17 season. The league likely would prefer a longer deal, by at least a year or two.