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NHL, union to resume labor talks

| Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, 10:52 a.m.
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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media earlier this year. (Getty Images)
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NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13: Don Fehr, executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association meets with the media at Marriott Marquis Times Square on September 13, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The NHL and Players' Association will resume face-to-face negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement Sunday in the wake of the league's latest labor proposal.

The league Thursday presented the players union with a proposal in which the NHL moves from its previous positions on players' contract term limits, variance and buyouts, sources said.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined to discuss details of the offer Friday but said, “We are hopeful that once the union's staff and negotiating committee have had an opportunity to thoroughly review and consider our new proposal, they will share it with the players. We want to be back on the ice as soon as possible.”

The Players' Association declined comment.

The sides will talk over a conference call Saturday.

A union executive board meeting was called Friday afternoon, Penguins players said.

Several Penguins players said Friday morning they had not studied details of the proposal, and some were not aware a new offer had been presented.

The Penguins players declined to comment after the Friday afternoon executive board meeting. It is unknown which, if any, of them would attend the Sunday meetings.

Sources said notable elements of the new offer include:

• A 10-year term, with mutual opt-out clauses after Year 8.

• Preservation of the salary-cap system, with a $70.2 million cap for the 2013 season dropping to $60 million for the 2013-14 season.

• A 50/50 split of future revenue, which last season the NHL reported was a record $3.3 billion.

• Owners have insisted on a 50/50 revenue split similar to the economic systems the NFL and NBA put in place after respective lockouts in those leagues in 2011. NHL players collected 57 percent of revenues in each of the seven years of the last labor contract.

• A six-year maximum on veteran contracts, though a club could sign its own player to a seven-year deal provided that player was under team control for the last full season. The previous league offer called for five-year maximum limits on veteran contracts.

• No more than a 10 percent increase or decrease to the first year of a player's salary on a multi-season contract. The previous NHL proposal called for a 5 percent variance.

• Owners' revenue sharing at $200 million. The previous NHL proposal called for $150 million, which was the approximate total under the last labor deal.

The NHL offer was made in the form of a 300-page document. Top NHL officials want more than a term sheet if there is an agreement in principle. Officials believe wording of the final labor contract was unfavorable to the league after a term sheet was signed to end the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.

The NHL has canceled games through Jan. 14 as part of a lockout enacted Sept. 15, when the last labor contract expired. Daly previously said a 48-game season must begin by “mid-January.”

The NHL is eight years removed from becoming the first North American professional sports league to lose an entire season because of a labor dispute.

The sides have not bargained since meetings in New York on Dec. 5 and 6. Neither NHL commissioner Gary Bettman nor union executive director Donald Fehr attended those meetings, which were sparked by a push from Penguins ownership, high-profile captain Sidney Crosby and his agent, Pat Brisson, to bring moderate voices into the mix.

Those meetings broke when the union offered a proposal that owners were not expecting, the sources said.

The union executive board faces a Tuesday deadline to file disclaimer of interest that would disband the union. Players on Dec. 21 authorized the executive board to make this legal maneuver. Union officials have not publicly said if there is a decision to file the disclaimer with the U.S. Department of Labor.

If it does not file by Tuesday, the union could set a new deadline for filing a disclaimer of interest by starting over the process and asking its more than 700 members to vote in favor of new authorization for the executive board.

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.

Penguins players, including union rep Craig Adams and Crosby, have declined comment since the league brought legal action. However, players have said privately they would prefer to strike a deal quickly with the NHL instead of taking this labor fight to the courts.

Jared Simmer, an adjunct public policy professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said a union filing a disclaimer of interest “has been considered the nuclear option in previous labor negotiations.”

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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