NEW YORK -- The NHL and NHL Players' Association finally seem to be speaking the same language, but they still have a gap to bridge in negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement.
The union tabled a comprehensive proposal Wednesday that generated a tepid response from the league. However, commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged the six-page offer was a step in the right direction and the document appeared to offer a path forward in talks, with the sides now envisioning the same type of economic system.
"There was movement on some issues by the players' association and that was appreciated," said Bettman. "But we're still far apart. Hopefully there will have been some momentum from today's session that we can build off of to hopefully bring this process to a successful conclusion."
The union proposed a 50-50 split of revenues during the five-year deal along with $393 million in deferred make-whole payments throughout the agreement. Two weeks ago, the league offered $211 million and a 50-50 split.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr acknowledged that his constituents are anxious to end the lockout and indicated that the new offer is "about as good" as the players are willing to make.
"(The players) are suffering right along with the fans," said Fehr. "We made an enormous move in the owners' direction to try and end it -- at least as of today that hasn't been successful."
Until now, the union had been pushing for a system that would see players paid a fixed amount of revenue each season rather than receiving a percentage of it. However, the new offer included some safeguards to ensure they'd be protected in the event league revenues stalled, including a clause that states the players' share can't drop from year to year.
"The players are making enormous concessions to the owners and we want some protection on the downside," said Fehr.
There is still ground to cover on contract issues as well.
The new NHLPA offer included a rule that would punish teams who sign players to long-term, back-diving contracts -- something the league has identified as an important issue. It also called for players making more than $1 million in the minors to have their salary count against the salary cap.
However, the union chose not to adopt the NHL's proposed changes to unrestricted free agency, entry-level deals and salary arbitration, among other things. And the league still hasn't shown any willingness to budge on those issues.
"On the big things, there was ... no reciprocity in any meaningful sense," said Fehr.
-- The Canadian Press