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NHL breaks silence with new proposal

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The silent nights of December are over for the time being as the NHL launched a new bid to crank up the ice plants and turn the lights on for a 2012-13 season.

The league sent a proposal of roughly 300 pages to the NHLPA late Thursday night with three key revisions from its last official contact more than two weeks ago.

The players considered those ideas in a conference call on Friday and will meet over the phone with the league today for explanations and clarifications.

A request for more information is seen as a good sign, at least better than what many on the league side feared -- that the players would simply want to start negotiating up and down the line off the NHL's latest proposal.

There's not much time left for back-and-forth on a new collective bargaining agreement if there is to be a season.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the new offer Friday, but declined to comment on its details.

"We are hopeful that once the union's staff and negotiating committee have had an opportunity to thoroughly review and consider our new proposal, they will share it with the players," Daly said in a statement. "We want to be back on the ice as soon as possible."

In light of commissioner Gary Bettman's stated preference to consider nothing less than 48 games, the league has told teams and the players a ratified deal by Jan. 11 could open training camps on Jan. 12 and lead to the start of a season containing only in-conference games on Jan. 19, a Saturday.

That would leave 99 days to April 27 to cram in 48 regular-season games, then get the playoffs finished by the end of June.

A season is still far from certain.

After the players conferred by phone Friday, one participant described the call as neither positive or negative or even anxious, just that there's still a lot to go over.

He also described the NHL's revised proposals as small moves in the players' direction but that the remaining issues may not be limited to those things.

On the league's side, a source told the Free Press the updated proposal was a "calculated risk," and worried that Bettman will have a tough sell when it comes to ratification from the owners.

At the heart of the new proposal was movement on issues the league and its owners stood hard on during their four-day session in New York earlier in the month, one that included owner-player dialogue face-to-face.

The NHL had then asked for five-year limits on all future player contracts and has now backed off to six years, with the exception that a team may sign its own free agents to seven-year deals.

Also in this proposal, future limitations on fluctuations of salary within a contract are to be set at 10 per cent up or down, instead of the earlier ask of five per cent.

The league also moved off its refusal to allow any outside-the-system player buyouts. It has now proposed one per team, where the cash involved won't count against a team's payroll under cap accounting, though the money will be counted into the players' future 50-50 share of hockey revenues.

These buyouts seem to be inevitable if a new financial structure and revenue split come into play. Whatever 2012-13 season may be played will likely be conducted under an annualized $70.2 million upper limit, so as the league projects the salary cap to be $60 million in a year's time, teams will need these buyouts as a measure to reduce payrolls and get under the future cap,

The highlights of the NHL's extensive document sent to the NHLPA on Thursday include no movement on several other issues, including asking for a 10-year CBA with an opt-out clause for both sides after eight years.

What could be viewed as positive developments are other inclusions, among them that the NHL has returned a full $300 million amount for future "make-whole" payments to players whose contract face values may be reduced by a move to the 50-50 revenue split.

Also remaining in the proposal are the NHLPA's version of a "cap-advantage-recapture" system that will cost teams who have given out heavy front-loaded, long-term deals to players who may not play out all the years; and an increased revenue-sharing component of up to $200 million.

The NHL has cancelled all games through Jan. 14. Today is Day 105 of the labour dispute.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2012 C1

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Updated on Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 10:45 AM CST: replaces photo, changes headline, adds fact box

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