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NHL CBA talks: players inch closer to owners' offer

Posted by Kevin Paul Dupont, Globe Staff  November 21, 2012 02:17 PM

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It looked as though we would see some traction today in the NHL contract talks, with strong indications by late morning that the lockout could be coming to a close and the game finally returning to a rink year you.

The NHLPA, the players' union, this morning in New York City put an offer on the table that in significant portions mirrored what NHL owners offered them on Oct. 16.

But by 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,'' Fehr said, referring to some of the major issues the players' offer addressed.

Roughly 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 PA's offer moved toward the league's proposal and noted the day's talks yielded some traction.

It's possible that talks will resume Friday, following the Thanksgiving holiday.

It took the PA slightly more than five weeks to reckon with the harsh reality that the owners are serious about gaining major financial givebacks, and today's response by the union more closely resembled the ''50/50'' offer that owners put on the table in October when the lockout was but a month old. In essence, the players finally were prepared to split in half the game's gross revenues, which last year totaled some $3.3 billion.

Today's 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 $393 million, paid over four years. No doubt that will take some protracted jawboning, especially in light of the league's negative overall response today.

Other than an offer to amend the contentious long-term back-diving contracts, which have been a way for teams to ease (read: cheat) salary cap burdens, the new players' offer did not address many of the key language/rights amendments that owners demanded in the Oct. 16 offer.

However, conventional wisdom in recent weeks has been that owners would relent on many/most of these provisions if the PA came around to the 50/50 revenue split and peace could be made on the ''Make Whole'' issue. No telling yet if that conventional wisdom proved true or was simply wiseguy speculation.

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 it last longer, by at least a year or two.

Had the league offered at least, say, an encouraging opinion of the offer, it would have been be reasonable to think a new deal could be forged in a span of 3-7 days. If that had been the case, camps could have opened by the end of next week and a five-day training period could have seen regular-season games resume on or about Dec. 5. All of which would have provided enough time for a regular season of 50-60 games, a significant drop from the standard 82-game season.

Both sides, of course, will want to play as many games as possible, in order to recapture revenue and shore up a frustrated fan base and sagging sponsorship community. One way of regaining a portion of that money would be to lengthen the season to 84 games starting in 2013-'14. Over the remaining four years of the deal, that would restore eight of the games lost to this year's lockout and it would aid the league in generating that ''Make Whole'' revenue.

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