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NHL, union set to meet for face-to-face talks

CBC
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Labour pains

Multiple sources say the National Hockey League and its union will hold the first face-to-face negotiating session in almost a month on Monday, as the clock ticks towards virtual midnight for a resolution to the 106-day lockout.

The sides spent the weekend exchanging phone calls to clarify points made in a major proposal from the NHL on Thursday night that ran to 288 pages.

At the same time, lawyers and business experts representing Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA head Donald Fehr also held meetings to go over points.

"There will be no further face-to-face meetings today," the union said in a statement late Sunday afternoon. "The plan is for the sides to meet tomorrow."

Time is short as NHL sources indicate anything less than a 48-game schedule would not be acceptable, and that must begin by Jan. 19. Work in a week of training camp, with no exhibition games, and a day for organization, and that seems to leave Jan. 11 as a drop-dead date for a final deal.

This would not preclude the union from telling players to head for their teams in the days before that, if negotiations indicated success was at hand, according to sources.

Also, there are more than 100 free agents left to be signed by teams who won’t know the salary cap for this season until a deal is signed.

The NHL breathed new life into negotiations Thursday night by presenting their proposal to the NHLPA, one that included a summary of key points, a Memorandum of Understanding with more detail, and a lengthy legal document that details the offer in proper language.

After spending Friday going over the package, the union held informational discussions by phone with the NHL on Saturday to ensure they were clear on each point. Sunday morning saw more of the same.

Under the league’s new proposal, term limits of the deal would be 10 years, with a mutual opt-out at eight, maximum contract length would be six years, or seven if re-signing your own player, and a $300-million fund to guarantee much of the existing contracts is included.

A key point seems to be variance, with the NHL not wanting any contract year paying more than 10 per cent more than it did in the first year, while the players are reportedly seeking a 25 per cent level.

This is important because of the league’s resistance to the long-term, back-ended contracts some general managers have used as a way around salary caps.

Also, reports each team would be able to buy out a contract (likely a large one for a player no longer producing well) without it counting against the salary cap now seem to point to a start date of this summer, so it would not affect the stub season this winter and spring.

Escrow terms are also still under discussion. Under this provision, players would continue to have some of their salary held back until the end of each season when league-wide profits are counted up.

If the players have earned less than a 50-50 split of overall revenues, they would receive monies from escrow to bring it back up. If they have earned more, the escrow goes to the league.

More than 50 per cent of the schedule (625 games), has been lost to the lockout.

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