- Associated Press - Thursday, October 18, 2012

On Tuesday, the NHL made its strongest, and most public, pitch yet to save a full season.

On Thursday, it’ll be the NHLPA’s turn.

Facing a firm deadline to preserve an 82-game season, both sides are under pressure to complete a new deal with talks set to restart in Toronto. The union’s counterproposal _ and the league’s reaction to the offer _ 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, boasting a full schedule as well as a 50-50 split in revenues. At the time, NHL 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, their leader 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.”

But the clock is ticking. The NHL has a deadline of Oct. 25 to strike a deal so that the season can start by Nov. 2, three weeks behind schedule. If those deadlines are met, teams would be able to hold makeshift training camps for one week, and then play one extra game every five weeks to make up for the lost time and complete a full slate.

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