NHL owners, players union plot next move in negotiations

| Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 7:58 p.m.

The NHL and Players' Association carefully are planning a next round of negotiations to prevent a second lost season in eight years.

Staff members to high-level NHL and NHLPA officials exchanged information on conference calls Saturday, but there are no plans for face-to-face bargaining to resume Sunday in New York.

Staff-level calls are scheduled for Sunday.

The sides are trying to establish a framework for midweek negotiations on a new labor contract, multiple sources said.

The sources also said the sides believe significant movement must happen by the end of next weekend to save the season.

The NHLPA still is studying a 300-page offer made by the NHL on Thursday. It is not known if the union will present a counterproposal or bargain off points from the NHL document.

“I think I'm like a lot of guys in that I don't really know all the details,” Plum native R.J. Umberger said.

Umberger, a veteran forward with Columbus, served as an assistant coach for his alma mater, Ohio State, in the Buckeyes' 5-4 loss to Penn State at Consol Energy Center in the Three Rivers Classic consolation game Saturday.

“I have no clue what's going to happen next,” he said.

The lockout hit Day 105 Saturday. Games are canceled through Jan. 14, and a 48-game season must begin by “mid-January,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

NHL officials have steadfastly refused to set a drop-dead date to save the season. Sources provided the following details about plans for a season that would begin within about three weeks:

• Team sales staffs could begin selling single-game tickets by Jan. 15.

• Referees and linesmen are preparing to begin working games as soon as Jan. 18.

• Clubs are planning for seven days of training-camp practices, with a likely built-in off day. There would be no exhibition games.

• Clubs' hockey staffs are on alert to be ready to return to their NHL cities. Agents similarly have advised their clients playing overseas.

Precedent from the last 48-game season indicates the next week is critical if the NHL is to avoid losing a season after reporting a record $3.3 billion in revenue.

A shortened 1995 season began Jan. 20. An owners' lockout ended Jan. 11.

The NHL did not cancel the 2004-05 season until Feb. 16, 2005. That lockout ended July 13.

The league and union have not met in person to negotiate since meeting in New York on Dec. 5 and 6. Neither NHL commissioner Gary Bettman nor union executive director Donald Fehr participated.

Bettman and Fehr have not taken part in face-to-face bargaining sessions since Nov. 29.

The union has until Tuesday to file a disclaimer of interest with the U.S. Department of Labor that would disband the union. Players on Dec. 21 authorized the executive board to make this legal maneuver.

The NHL has a pending class-action complaint against the union in New York federal court and an unfair practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

Staff writer Josh Yohe contributed. Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rrossi@tribweb.com or 412-380-5635.

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