The decision to ax more contests was an expected one after talks between the two sides broke down in dramatic fashion last week, with the league pulling portions of its previous proposals off the table.
It was following the conclusion of those three days of meetings in New York that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman offered a glimpse at the timeline needed to save a shortened season. Bettman said he couldn’t envision a schedule with fewer than 48 games per team, which, by all accounts, requires a resolution no later than mid-January.
“When it gets to the point where we can’t play a season with integrity, with a representative schedule, then we’ll be done,” Bettman told reporters Dec. 6 in New York. “If you go back in history, in ’94-95 I think we played 48 games. I can’t imagine wanting to play fewer than that.”
The first lockout of Bettman’s NHL tenure ended Jan. 11, 1995, with the shortened season running from Jan. 20 to May 3. It’s believed the league doesn’t want the regular season to extend into May this time around, though.
Despite last week’s fireworks, the owners and NHLPA appeared to be closer than ever to reaching an agreement after exchanging proposals during last week’s negotiation sessions. According to comments NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly made to the Associated Press, the two sides may reconvene for negotiations this week, but nothing has been finalized.
Talks fell apart after the union made a counter-proposal to the league’s latest offer, despite the two sides seeming to find common ground on financial issues.
NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said the players believed they had come to an agreement, not just on a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue but on pensions, which would be funded by the union, and “make whole” payments that the owners upped to $300 million. But those elements, along with leaving free agent eligibility and arbitration rights the same as they were in the previous labor agreement, were part of what Bettman described as “total package.” In other words, a take-it-or-leave-it offer.
The union didn’t concede three items on the owners’ list of demands, prompting the league to rescind the offer. Whether or not it could be reinstated, and how far apart the two sides truly are, is unclear.
Those sticking points were: the length of the CBA term, with the league seeking a 10-year deal with an option after eight; contract term limits that the league wants to see capped at five years; and transition issues, such as compliance buyouts or limits on escrow payments that the league doesn’t want to include at all.
During the weekend, Fehr reiterated his belief that the two sides are nearing an agreement.
“We think we’re done on the dollars, or very close to it, with the exception of one issue, transition, which we haven’t even discussed yet,” Fehr told reporters in Toronto. “It seemed to me that we ought to be able to move forward and finish it off.”