Sports

NHL tweaks offer to players, sparks new talks

Gary Bettman (right), Bill Daly and the NHL will have a conference call with the players’ union on Saturday.
Gary Bettman (right), Bill Daly and the NHL will have a conference call with the players’ union on Saturday.file/mary altaffer/associated press

The NHL on Thursday made a few significant tweaks to its most recent collective bargaining agreement offer, and one optimistic team executive said he believes it will be a “tipping point’’ in the negotiations.

The players’ union responded Friday by agreeing to a conference call Saturday with owners, The New York Times reported. The sides are expected to meet face to face Sunday in New York for the first time since Dec. 13.

The new offer, first reported by ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, has the league willing to extend by one year its term limits on player contracts. Instead of limiting deals to five years, and increasing those deals to seven years if the player re-signs with his current club, the league has increased its offer to six years/seven years.

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The players have been seeking an eight-year limit.

‘‘We delivered to the union a new, comprehensive proposal for a successor CBA,’’ NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement Friday. ‘‘We are not prepared to discuss the details of our proposal at this time. We are hopeful that once the union’s staff and negotiating committee have had an opportunity to thoroughly review and consider our new proposal, they will share it with the players. We want to be back on the ice as soon as possible.’’

Other reporters and bloggers tweeted Friday morning that the league is standing firm on its desire for a new CBA to span 10 seasons, with either side given the chance to opt out after eight years. The NHLPA has been seeking an eight-year deal with a six-year opt-out.

The league also has restated its offer of $300 million for the hotly contested “make whole’’ provision, dollars the union has insisted on be made available to prevent players currently under contract from taking a potential severe rollback in compensation.

When talks broke off two weeks ago, the league hinted heavily that the $300 million offer would be reduced when/if a new offer was made.

It is believed the NHL’s latest offer includes a $70.2 million salary cap for what remains of the 2012-13 season. The league then wants the cap to fall to $60 million for the start of the 2013-14 season. The Players’ Association no doubt will seek to increase the $60 million figure.

As of early Friday evening, the union had not formally responded to the league’s offer.

If these tweaks provide traction to cut a deal, it’s possible the union could vote to ratify within, say, the next five to seven days, leading to abbreviated training camps. If so, it’s likely teams would play a 48-game regular season, to begin approximately Jan. 18 and wrapping up at the start of May.

A full round of playoffs would follow, with a potential Game 7 of the Cup Final played no later than June 25.

The lockout, the third in league history, began Sept. 16 and is in its 104th day. When the league and players ended the 1994-95 lockout, an agreement was not reached until Jan. 11, and play began Jan. 20.

The sides have been at a standstill since Dec. 6. and haven’t talked face to face since Dec. 13. Federal mediators have been involved in talks on two separate occasions without any progress.

The Players’ Association and the owners went after each other this month. The league filed a class-action lawsuit to show the lockout is legal and also filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming bad-faith bargaining by the union.

In a landslide vote, union members gave leadership the power to file a “disclaimer of interest’’ that would disolve the union and allow players to file antitrust suits against the NHL.

The lockout has reached a critical stage. Games through Jan. 14, plus the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game, already have been called off.

It is still possible this dispute could eventually be settled in the courts if the sides can’t reach a deal on their own. The NHL is the only North American professional sports league to cancel a season because of a labor dispute.

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