TORONTO — Talks between the NHL and the players’ association are about to hit overdrive. Finally.
After 34 days without a new proposal being offered from either side in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, the NHL stepped up Tuesday and gave the whole labor process a jump-start.
Commissioner Gary Bettman made a new offer to the players’ association that proposes a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue and a full 82-game season starting Nov. 2.
As talks resumed for the first time since last week between the league and the players association, Bettman proudly announced the offer, which is crafted for a quick response from the head of the association, Donald Fehr, followed by some serious negotiations.
“It was done,” Bettman said, “in the spirit of getting a deal done.”
Fehr told reporters that the proposal is for six years. Bettman did not confirm that number.
“Our hope,” he said, “after we review this is that there will be a feeling on the players’ side that this will be a proposal from which we can negotiate and try and reach a conclusion.”
When asked whether the new proposal was an improvement over previous offers, Fehr said: “In some respects I think it is. In other respects, I’m not sure.”
The NHL locked out its players Sept. 15, and the regular season was scheduled to begin Oct. 11. A Nov. 2 start would extend the season into June but would preserve some of the marquee events, such as the Jan. 1 Winter Classic in Michigan.
“I don’t want to get into the substance other than to say we believe that this was a fair offer for a long-term deal, and it’s one that we hope gets a positive reaction,” Bettman said. “We have about nine or 10 days to get this all put to bed … in order for this offer to be effective and for us to move forward.”
Bettman said the long-term deal takes steps to guarantee the players will get full value from their existing deals. And in order to get a full season in, each team would have one additional game every five weeks.
All teams also would hold a makeshift training camp, lasting approximately one week. Veteran players who signed contracts overseas would need to scramble back to team headquarters, as will the younger players who are working in the minor leagues this month.
It is clearly the best offer – or counteroffer, for that matter – that has been made in the months of negotiations since last season ended in June. The proposal is now in the hands of Fehr and his team of executives, who acknowledged that the proposal was stronger than the previous ones.
The union has formally requested time to look the proposal over.
“We’re focused on getting the puck dropped on Nov. 2 and playing a full 82-game regular season and full playoffs,” Bettman said. “That’s what this offer is all about.”
This is the third lockout under Bettman’s watch, but unlike the previous two, dialogue has remained steady. The two sides last met last week in New York.
“We’ve given it,” Bettman said, “our best shot.”
And at the least, Fehr is encouraged.
“I would like to believe that it will be an excellent starting point,” he said. “And we can go forward and see if there is a deal to be made.”