NEW YORK, N.Y. – The push towards a deal that would save a shortened NHL season continued Tuesday.
The league and union were gearing up for a full day of talks with a deadline looming to reach a new collective bargaining agreement.
After the NHLPA presented a counter-proposal on Monday, small groups from each side held a conference call early Tuesday afternoon. Another face-to-face meeting was expected to commence at the league office later in the evening.
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.
“What we’ve said is we need to drop the puck by Jan. 19 if we’re going to play a 48-game season,” commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday. “We don’t think it makes sense to play a season that is any shorter than that.”
League officials met well into the night Monday after receiving a new offer from the union. NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said the union’s proposal included movement on key issues, but declined to elaborate.
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.