TORONTO – NHL labor talks are set to resume with a wide gap remaining and time running out to avoid a potential lockout.
NHL Players' Association executive director Don Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman are scheduled to be back at the negotiating table at the union's headquarters in Toronto on Wednesday. It will mark the first time in a week the respective leaders will meet face to face after negotiations hit a significant snag.
Last week, Bettman essentially rejected the union's counterproposal by calling it incomplete and suggested the sides aren't on the same page in addressing the league's economic issues.
Both sides are committed to continuing discussions with a belief a breakthrough can be achieved.
"We are hoping that our meetings this week can serve as a jumping off point for further discussion and negotiation over the critical economic and system issues that we need to resolve in order to reach an agreement," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email to the Canadian Press.
Fehr is hoping the sides can begin finding common ground on the union's proposal to increase revenue-sharing between teams.
"Hopefully we'll find a way during that process to achieve more common ground than we have so far," he said.
Fehr took time off from talks to update players in Chicago and British Columbia on the status of negotiations. He is also set to hold a similar meeting with players in Toronto later this week.
Labor talks are scheduled to take place Wednesday and Thursday, and then resume at NHL headquarters in New York next week.
Time has become a critical factor.
Only 25 days remain before the current collective bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 15, when the NHL has already warned it will lock out the players if a deal isn't reached. That raises the threat of the NHL enduring its fourth labor dispute in 20 years, dating to a 10-day player strike in April 1992.
Most recently, there was the lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season. That dispute eventually led to the sides to agree to the current deal that included a salary cap for the first time.
In making its proposal last month, the NHL put much of the burden on the players by seeking to scale back their share of revenues from 57 percent to 43, when factoring in other revenues the NHL deems shouldn't be shared with players. That would translate into what the union estimates as being a $450 million shift in revenue in the owners' favor.
The NHL is also seeking to limit the length of contracts to five years (there are currently no limits); lengthening the time a player must wait to be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent from seven years to 10; and eliminating players' rights to salary arbitration.
The union presented its counteroffer last week, proposing to cut its share of revenue over a three-year period while also urging the NHL to adopt a revenue-sharing system to help struggling teams. Based on current numbers, Fehr estimated the NHL would gain between $465 million and $800 million on the condition the players would have the option to revert to the current system in the fourth year.
Fehr described the players' offer as one that could stabilize the industry.
NHL officials and players were already in Toronto on Tuesday to begin a two-day session to discuss on-ice rules and enforcement issues to help improve the game.
The meetings are being led by Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior vice president of hockey operations.