NHL players on hand for union’s response to league

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TORONTO (AP) - NHL players showed up in force on Thursday as the union prepared to respond to the league’s proposal to end the lockout and start a full season Nov. 2.

The NHL Players’ Association confirmed it will make a new offer during negotiations on Thursday. Among the 18 players at the talks were Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Jonathan Toews and Eric Staal. The scene looked similar to one in August when the union made its first proposal.

On Tuesday, the NHL proposed a 50-50 hockey-related revenue split and an 82-game regular season. For that to happen, the sides must reach an agreement by Oct. 25.

Facing a firm deadline to preserve a full season, both sides are under pressure to complete a new deal. The union’s counterproposal _ and the league’s reaction to it _ could determine whether the league plays a full slate of games or there’s a further disruption of the schedule.

“I hope we can get going ASAP,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “We will be presenting something soon, and hopefully this week’s proposals will spark things in the right direction.

“Still some work to get done.”

NHLPLA executive director Donald Fehr made that known on Wednesday _ emphatically.

Fehr met with the union to formulate a response, and in a letter to players and agents said the management plan would cost his members more than $1.6 billion over six years.

“We do not yet know whether this proposal is a serious attempt to negotiate an agreement, or just another step down the road,” Fehr wrote in the letter that was leaked to TSN. “The next several days will be, in large part, an effort to discover the answer to that question.”

The NHL made its proposal Tuesday. At the time, Commissioner Gary Bettman called it the league’s “best shot.” The league then took the unprecedented step of publicly releasing the plan Wednesday online.

Fehr was much less optimistic. And though some players saw some hope in the plan, he viewed it as only a small step forward.

“Simply put, the owners’ new proposal, while not quite as Draconian as their previous proposals, still represents enormous reductions in player salaries and individual contracting rights,” Fehr said. “As you will see, at the 5 percent industry growth rate the owners predict, the salary reduction over six years exceeds $1.6 billion.

“What do the owners offer in return?”

That answer will have to wait. NHL spokesman Frank Brown said the league would not respond to Fehr’s letter.

The lockout _ the third of the Bettman era _ began Sept. 16, and the league canceled regular-season games through Oct. 24. Bettman, in announcing the new proposal, called it “a fair offer for a long-term deal” and “one that we hope gets a positive reaction.”

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