After holding a series of conference calls to review the NHL's latest proposal on Saturday afternoon, the sides made plans to resume the discussions on Sunday. Even though some of those talks were expected to be face-to-face at the league office in New York, it was unclear if they would include a response or counter-proposal from the NHLPA.
"(It was) purely informational today," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Saturday night. "Going to have more of the same type sessions tomorrow. (We) haven't nailed down if or when we will have a bargaining session tomorrow."
First, the two sides must work through a comprehensive proposal from the NHL that spanned nearly 300 pages. That document was emailed from commissioner Gary Bettman to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr on Thursday night and included movement from the league on contract rules along with the introduction of compliance buyouts for the first time during these negotiations.
It also included US$300 million in deferred transition payments to the players, something the league had taken off the table when talks broke down on Dec. 6. That was the last true round of bargaining between the parties, which ended abruptly after the NHLPA countered an earlier offer from the league.
There should be some urgency from both sides to get back to the table with time running short to save a shortened 48-game season.
As part of the NHL's proposal this week, Bettman told the union that an agreement would have to be in place by Jan. 11, according to sources. That would allow training camps to open Jan. 12 and the puck to be dropped for the season on Jan. 19.
The league's latest offer calls for a six-year term limit on free-agent deals — up from five previously — and will allow teams to re-sign their own players for up to seven years. It also includes a provision that salary can vary by 10 per cent from year to year during the course of a deal (the NHL's previous offer proposed a five per cent variance).
Another key point is the inclusion of one-time compliance buyouts that would help teams transition from a system that saw players receive 57 per cent of revenues to one that pays them 50 per cent. The proposal gives each team one such buyout, with the money counting against the players' overall share in revenue but not an individual team's salary cap.
Despite the movement from the league, there is still clearly work to be done. Among the items in the proposal a source indicated the NHLPA isn't keen on is a $60-million salary cap in 2013-14, which the union believes will result in players paying a high rate of escrow.
If the key negotiators from each side aren't able to come up with a new CBA soon, the next battle between them is likely to be waged in court. The NHLPA's executive board has until Wednesday to file a "disclaimer of interest" that would see the union dissolved — a legal manoeuvre that would allow players to file anti-trust lawsuits against the league.
There is also a pending class-action lawsuit from the NHL filed with the U.S. federal court in New York. Earlier this month, it asked the court to rule on the legality of the lockout and argued that the NHLPA was only using the threat of a "disclaimer of interest" as a bargaining tactic to "extract more favourable terms and conditions of employment."
In the meantime, the damage caused by another lockout continues to worsen.
Players are set to miss their sixth paycheque of the 2012-13 season on Sunday while the positive attention the league has been accustomed to receiving over the new year's holiday with the Winter Classic outdoor game appears as though it will be replaced by more focus on the labour dispute.
The 105-day lockout has forced the cancellation of 625 games and is now the second longest in league history. In 1994-95, the lockout lasted 103 days before an agreement was reached. The labour dispute that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season spanned 301 days.
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