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NHL comes back with 'comprehensive' proposal for NHLPA

| Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, 12:38 p.m.
NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr speaks to reporters after a negotiation session between the NHLPA and the NHL on Wednesday in New York. AP

In an effort to save the 2013 NHL regular season, the league and its union are finally entrenched in legitimate negotiations.

One day after the NHLPA made a counter-offer to the NHL's surprising offer from Thursday, the NHL has responded with yet another proposal.

Calling it a “comprehensive response,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said he will review the plan Tuesday night and that he expects the sides to meet again Wednesday.

According to Fehr, the face-to-face meeting between the sides lasted only 30 minutes.

The NHL clearly took great interest in reading Fehr's proposal Monday night. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman initially set a 5 p.m. meeting with the union Tuesday, then pushed it back to 7. The meetings finally started at 9 p.m.

Unlike in previous meetings with the media, Bettman has not acted in a combative manner this week. It appears the sides are choosing their words carefully with the intent of striking a deal soon.

“I'm optimistic,” Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “Obviously you're always a bit reserved. We have been burned a few times before. Right now, both sides understand how important it is to get a deal done.”

Bettman said that, if a season is to take place, it must begin by Jan. 19. For that to reasonably happen, an agreement must be in place by Jan. 11.

The union has a deadline Wednesday to file a disclaimer of interest with the Department of Labor. This would disband the union.

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik is hopeful for a season but cautioned that Bettman's cordial response to Fehr's offer isn't an indication that a deal is necessarily imminent.

“At this point,” Orpik said, “any time you try to get reads off body language or rhetoric from both sides, I think it's really tough to pinpoint exactly when they're being genuine and when they're not.”

Still, there are signs that the players sense growing optimism that training camp could be right around the corner. For the first time since players began skating informally at Southpointe in September, they will be working out all five days this week.

Usually, they are off Wednesdays.

“Now we finally have an end date,” Orpik said. “There have been points when it's tough to get motivated and you question why you're working out. Everyone has the 11th or 12th circled as an end date. We've been patient. We might as well be patient for 10 more days and be ready.”

Orpik and Lovejoy were joined by captain Sidney Crosby, winger Pascal Dupuis, center Joe Vitale and defenseman Deryk Engelland at Southpointe on Tuesday. A larger contingent of players is expected for workouts Wednesday.

The players remain satisfied with the communication they've received from Fehr regarding the NHLPA's latest offer.

“They've given us very detailed reports,” Orpik said. “We've heard that the other side (owners), a lot of teams are in the dark with what's going on. But we've been getting updates and emails. When you're at the meetings, you have a better idea of what's going on. But we've been happy with all the information we've received.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jyohe@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1975.

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