NEW YORK, N.Y. - The NHL Players' Association needed some overtime to prepare its next offer in collective bargaining.
Donald Fehr, the NHLPA's executive director, had hoped to table a counter-proposal Thursday but instead called off the session to devote more time to drafting it. The sides are scheduled to resume talks Friday morning.
The union received detailed team-by-team financial information from the 2011-12 season this week and spent Thursday combing through it.
It also had a new NHL proposal to work off of while coming up with a counter offer. On Tuesday, the league tabled a six-year contract that would see the players' share in revenue reduced to 46 per cent—something that didn't hold much appeal for the union.
However, the league viewed its second offer as a significant improvement on the initial proposal it tabled July 13, which called for players to receive a 43 per cent share and introduced a number of new contract restrictions.
With a Sept. 15 deadline looming for a lockout, deputy commissioner Bill Daly expressed hope Thursday the players would be motivated to sweeten the offer they made two weeks ago.
"We're hopeful it's a meaningful proposal that we can continue to make progress from," he said. "We feel like we made a good step in that direction earlier this week and we hope that they would make a step forward as well."
Fehr was not made available to the media Thursday.
There's a sense negotiations have reached crunch time, especially with the growing possibility the league is heading for its second lockout in as many negotiations. The NHL's business is essentially on hold while players and teams wait to see if an agreement can be reached in time for training camps to open as scheduled Sept. 21 and the regular season to start Oct. 11.
The NHL has said it will lock the players out when the current CBA expires Sept. 15, but Daly believes there's still enough time to hammer out an agreement before then.
"Well obviously the clock is ticking—we're almost into September now," he said. "I would say the positive thing is I think both parties are committed . . . to meet as often as it takes to get a deal done, but obviously every day that goes by it's less and less likely that we'll be able to come to closure on all of the issues we need to come to closure on."
They haven't yet got past the first one.
The negotiations are now solely focused on the league's economic system and figuring out how revenues are divided. Even the contract issues have been pushed aside for the time being.
Part of the hangup is a philosophical difference on what the new agreement represents, with players believing they shouldn't have to move far from the 57 per cent share they were given in the last deal and commissioner Gary Bettman suggesting Wednesday they shouldn't feel any "entitlement" to that number.
How the NHLPA goes about drafting its next offer will dictate where talks head.
After receiving the league's initial proposal last month—which called for a 24 per cent reduction in salaries—Fehr essentially ignored it while crafting his first response. The NHL then chose to borrow some of the union's suggested structure for its second offer, proposing that the salary cap be set at a fixed rate for the first three years before returning to a linkage system afterwards.
Ultimately, what the league is looking for now is an indication the players are willing to give up more revenue. The NHLPA's first offer would see them net a share of roughly 54 per cent.
The sides don't have any blackout days scheduled in the coming weeks, meaning they could conceivably bargain around the clock. Daly wouldn't even rule out the possibility of meeting through the Labour Day long weekend—provided they have matters worth discussing once the NHLPA's offer is put on the table.
"It'll depend on the nature of the proposal, the structure of the proposal, how detailed it is," he said. "Obviously the first proposal they made on Aug. 14, we took the night to analyze it and break it down and figure it out. Depending on what this is, we may need to take time as well.
"But certainly there's nothing that would preclude us from meeting Saturday if there's a reason to meet Saturday."