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January 02. 2013 10:25PM

NHL, players still swapping proposals


National Hockey League Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr speaks to members of the media after dropping off a proposal at NHL headquarters in New York on Wednesday. The league's players have been locked out for 109 days. (REUTERS)

As negotiations to end the NHL lockout inched forward, representatives for the league and the players' association were meeting Wednesday night in Manhattan to discuss a revised offer on a collective bargaining agreement delivered by the union Wednesday afternoon. The NHL was reviewing the offer, and the union was expected to return to the bargaining table Wednesday night.

It marked the fourth such exchange of proposals to end the 109-day standoff in the last week, and the sides now are essentially revising a main document of about 26 pages, although several key issues remained unresolved, including the amount of a salary cap in 2013-14, pensions, individual contract limits and the term of the deal. The league wants a 10-year pact, and the union wants concessions in return.

There certainly is some urgency in the talks; the league's deadline for a 48-game season to begin is Jan. 19. In order to stage training camps, a deal must be completed by about Jan. 11.

The players also were planning to announce by a midnight deadline whether they had decided to notify the league that they were filing a disclaimer of interest, a tactic that would dissolve the union into a trade association, which would allow players to file anti-trust suits against the league. The NBA players association chose the route in 2011 before reaching agreement on a new CBA.

It is believed that if the union is satisfied with the progress of the talks, it will delay employing a disclaimer, which is a form of decertification.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and a contingent that included a dozen players had planned to conduct a conference call on the disclaimer from their Times Square offices while awaiting word from league officials. Neither Commissioner Gary Bettman or Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly was available for comment in the afternoon.

On Dec. 21, after several days of voting, more than 700 players agreed overwhelmingly to authorize the PA board to decide by midnight, although the deadline could pass and Fehr and the board could seek another membership vote later in the negotiating process. Fehr declined comment on the disclaimer when leaving the NHL offices Wednesday.

When word leaked of the vote last month, the NHL responded immediately with a suit in U.S. District Court seeking a declaratory judgment that the lockout was legal, and an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB. Those cases are pending.

Bettman said Tuesday night that a disclaimer was not a concern. But it certainly would stall the talks, which could continue, because the trade association would name Fehr, and possibly his brother, special counsel Steve Fehr, as advisers.

Since the lockout began on Sept. 15, 626 games have been cancelled, including the Winter Classic, which was to be staged in Ann Arbor, Mich. between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs on Jan. 1. The players have forfeited six of their 13 paychecks and the league has lost hundreds of millions in revenues.


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