NEW YORK (AP) — The NHL put the course of ongoing labor negotiations back in the hands of the players’ association, and left union head Donald Fehr with “some things to consider” Friday night.
The fourth straight day of negotiations provided few details, and the sides broke up in the early evening without knowing if they would reconvene later Friday, during the weekend, or at some other point. The lockout has lasted 55 days and there is still uncertainty whether there will be a hockey season.
Players made a pair of proposals Wednesday, and the NHL responded with one Thursday. No new official offers were exchanged Friday, but there was give and take during discussions throughout the day. The last of three sessions was believed to have centered on the core economic issues keeping the sides apart, and it broke up after about two hours.
Fehr and his associates left the offices of the NHL’s lawyers, where the negotiations took place, to conduct a conference call with the players’ association executive board and negotiating team.
“We’ve got some things to consider and need to talk to our membership,” Fehr said, without taking questions.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league is available to continue talking as soon as the union is ready. Neither side ruled out getting together again Friday night or over the weekend.
“Whatever it takes. We’re available,” Bettman said. “It’s always better to be together and talk when there is something to talk about. I am not getting into the specifics. When you’re in a process like this, you’re really not watching the calendar. I’m not sure I can tell you what day it is.”
That could change soon if a deal isn’t struck.
The league has already called off 327 regular-season games, including the New Year’s Day Winter Classic in Michigan, and said a full season won’t be played. The NHL is in danger of having a lockout wipe out a full season for the second time in seven years.
Bettman declined to say if these talks have moved the sides any closer to an agreement.
“I am not going into the details of what takes place in the room,” he said. “I really apologize but I do not think it would be constructive to the process. I don’t want to either raise or lower expectations. I won’t be happy until we get to the end result, and that means we’re playing again.”
Bettman is scheduled to attend Hockey Hall of Fame inductions Monday night in Toronto, but developments in negotiations could prevent that.
“That’s my plan (to attend), but if there is a reason to be doing something else, as much as I enjoy the Hall of Fame inductions, if there is something else that is pending, that would take precedence.”
The lockout began Sept. 16 after the collective bargaining agreement expired, and both sides rejected proposals Oct. 18. The belief is that the players’ association has agreed to a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues, but that division wouldn’t kick in until the third year of the deal.
During a second consecutive day of marathon negotiations Wednesday, the players’ association made an offer on revenue sharing in which richer teams would help out poorer organizations, and another proposal regarding the “make-whole” provision that would guarantee full payment of all existing multiyear player contracts.
Revenue sharing and the make-whole provision are major hurdles. Both sides have made proposals that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues. The NHL has moved toward the players’ side on the “make-whole” provision and whose share of the economic pie that money will come from.
Along with the split of hockey-related revenue and other core economic issues, contract lengths, arbitration and free agency also must be agreed upon.
The union accepted a salary cap in the previous labor pact, which wasn’t reached until after the entire 2004-05 season was canceled because of a lockout. The union doesn’t want to absorb the majority of concessions this time after the NHL had record revenue that exceeded $3 billion last season.
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