NEW YORK, N.Y. – The NHL delivered a comprehensive counter-proposal to the NHL Players’ Associaton on Tuesday night as the sides pushed to reach an agreement that would save the season.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said the union would review the document during the evening and expected to return to the bargaining table at some point on Wednesday.
Fehr declined to be specific about what was being negotiated. “It’s better to be meeting than not but I’m not saying anything else more about it,” he said.
The talks are being held with an eye on preserving at least a 48-game schedule — the same number that was played following the 1994-95 lockout. An agreement would need to be in place by Jan. 11 for that to happen.
“The fact that we’re involved in a continuous process is something that I’m glad to see, but we’re clearly not done yet,” said commissioner Gary Bettman.
League officials met well into the night Monday after receiving a new offer from the union that Fehr said included movement on key issues.
It came three days after the NHL tabled a new offer that sparked the latest round of talks.
“We covered the range of subjects they covered,” said Fehr.
With a push now on to make an agreement, Fehr and Bettman rejoined talks for the first time in more than a month. The two leaders stayed out of the bargaining room during three days of negotiations in early December.
The NHL’s most recent offer saw it soften demands on new contract rules and included a salary cap of $60 million for the 2013-14 season — a number the union believes is too low. That would severely limit the money teams have to spend in the coming off-season.
While few details of the NHLPA’s new proposal are known, Bettman indicated that it brought attention to the key issues that still need to be addressed.
“There was an opportunity for the players’ association to highlight the areas that they thought we should focus on based on their response,” said Bettman. “And that’s something we’ve now got to look at very closely.”
With both sides remaining fairly tight-lipped, there was optimism that they could be closing in on a deal. Prior to talks going off the rails on Dec. 6, Fehr said the sides were so close that they were virtually on top of one another on all of the important issues.
That appears to still be the case.
“My view hasn’t changed from a month ago,” said Fehr.
There are signs the 108-day lockout is nearing its end. Players who have spent time in Europe are starting to trickle back to North America, including Bruins forward Tyler Seguin and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who wrote on Twitter that “hopefully I’m coming back for the right reason.”
The talks came on a day the NHL has devoted to celebrating the sport with the Winter Classic outdoor game. This year’s event between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs was expected to draw more than 100,000 fans to Michigan Stadium, but it was cancelled two months ago.