NHL talks to restart as clock ticks, year closes

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NEW YORK (AP) - The NHL and the players’ association are using the final hours of 2012 to try to get closer to an elusive deal that has so far been well out of reach.

Negotiations were scheduled for Monday afternoon at the league’s New York office, marking the first time the NHL and the union will be bargaining in nearly three weeks, and the first time they will do so without mediation since early December.

The New Year’s clock is ticking while the window to reach a labor agreement to save the season is rapidly closing. No one has said exactly how much time remains, but the belief is the NHL wants a shortened season to start no later than Jan. 19.

That leaves a little less than two weeks to reach an agreement and stage one week of training camp before the puck would drop on a 48-game campaign.

The league and the union had informational discussions _ by conference call and in meetings _ with staff members that lasted much of Saturday and ended Sunday. Those talks were spurred by the nearly 300-page contract proposal the NHL presented to the union Thursday.

The union is expected to make a counteroffer Monday. These will be the first negotiations since the sides met with a federal mediator Dec. 13.

All games through Jan. 14 have been canceled, claiming more than 50 percent of the original schedule. The NHL wants to reach a deal by Jan. 11 and open the season eight days later.

Bargaining sessions with only the NHL and union haven’t been held since Dec. 6, when talks abruptly ended after the players’ association made a counterproposal. The league said that offer was contingent on the union accepting three elements unconditionally and without further bargaining.

The NHL then pulled all existing offers off the table. Two days of sessions with mediators the following week ended without progress.

A person familiar with key points of the offer told The Associated Press that the league proposed raising the limit of individual free-agent contracts to six years from five _ seven years if a team re-signs its own player; raising the salary variance from one year to another to 10 percent, up from 5 percent; and one compliance buyout for the 2013-14 season that wouldn’t count toward a team’s salary cap but would be included in the overall players’ share of income.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the new offer weren’t being discussed publicly.

The NHL maintained the deferred payment amount of $300 million it offered in its previous proposal, an increase from an earlier offer of $211 million. The initial $300 million offer was pulled after negotiations broke off this month.

The latest proposal is for 10 years, running through the 2021-22 season, with both sides having the right to opt out after eight years.

If this offer doesn’t quickly lead to a new collective bargaining agreement, the next round of cuts could claim the entire schedule.

The NHL is the only North American professional sports league to cancel a season because of a labor dispute, losing the 2004-05 campaign to a lockout. A 48-game season was played in 1995 after a lockout stretched into January.

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