Conversations that restarted Friday between NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr produced enough positive movement Saturday to set up another face-to-face meeting that the sides hope will lead to an agreement to save the hockey season.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman suggested to union executive director Donald Fehr this week that the sides take two weeks off from negotiations. The union maintained its desire to keep talking, and now bargaining is back on.
"We can confirm that we have tentatively agreed to get back together on Monday, either late in the afternoon or early evening," Daly said. "The meeting was requested by the union and it's their agenda. We will see what they have to tell us."
Owners and players met for several consecutive days last week in New York, but made little progress. Negotiations ended in an angry exchange last Friday, but bargaining resumed two days later only to break off again in just over an hour.
Staying apart never appeared to be a good option, and the NHL now seems to agree.
All games through Nov. 30 have already been taken off the schedule, more cancellations are likely within a week, the Winter Classic has been wiped out, the All-Star game is the next big event in jeopardy, and the whole season could be lost, too, in the blink of an eye if a new deal can't be hammered out.
The players have stuck to their position that negotiations are the only way to work out differences, and that they are willing to meet any time the NHL wants to.
The NHL contends that the union has submitted the same proposal multiple times without moving in the league's direction. The union says it has agreed to come down from receiving 57 per cent of hockey-related revenues to a 50-50 split. The league wants that to go into effect in the first year of the agreement, while the union wants to get there gradually.
Seven years ago, after the entire 2004-05 season was lost to a lockout, the players' association accepted a salary-cap system for the first time. The union feels it shouldn't have to bear the brunt of the concessions now after league revenues reached a record high of over US$3 billion last season.
This 63-day lockout has claimed 327 regular-season games, and hope of a new deal and the start of the already-shortened season — likely of 68 games per team — on Dec. 1 has started to wane.
It is more than just finances preventing a deal. The disagreements over player contract terms have emerged as just as big an impasse.
The NHL wants to limit contracts to five years, make rules to prohibit back-diving contracts the league feels circumvent the salary cap, keep players ineligible for unrestricted free agency until they are 28 or have eight years of professional service time, cut entry-level deals to two years, and make salary arbitration after five years.
Once those issues are settled, the sides will then have to figure out who will cover the financial damage the lockout will ultimately do to this season.
Players missed their third pay day of the season Thursday, and the clock is ticking toward more losses. The 2004-05 season was cancelled in February. A lockout in 1995 ended in January, leading to a 48-game schedule.
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