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NHL players on verge of making counter-offer

'Not enamoured' with owners' proposal says Fehr

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Donald Fehr nearly has all his ducks in a row.

The globe-trotting head of the NHL Players' Association is just about ready to counter the league's initial proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement.

He's likely to make at least part of his pitch during the scheduled talks in New York this week, Fehr told The Canadian Press on Monday.

"I think that there's certainly a possibility -- a reasonable one -- that we'll be in a position to make some further response," Fehr said in an interview. "Whether we'll be in a position to make an alternative proposal yet I don't know."

It's been nearly a month since the NHL laid out its vision for the new CBA. The July 13 proposal to the NHLPA included an immediate 24 per cent reduction in salaries, the introduction of several new restrictions on contracts and a redefinition of hockey-related revenue that would see the percentage paid to players each season drop from 57 to 43.

The league and union are scheduled to resume talks on Tuesday, with Fehr scheduled to join the four-day session later in the week after making his way back to North America.

He visited Moscow late last week -- sitting down with Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, among others -- before holding a session Monday in Barcelona that was attended by roughly 40 players, including Henrik Zetterberg, Mark Streit and Jonas Hiller.

Naturally, the main topic of discussion has been the CBA negotiations that have been underway for more than six weeks.

"The central purpose of the meetings is to go through ... what's happened, who said what, what do we expect to happen next, what's the process we go through and all the rest of that stuff," said Fehr. "Given what happened in this sport the last time, given the lockouts in football and basketball and given the owners' proposal that's made here, clearly (players) are focused and they're interested and they want to make sure they understand it..."

The current CBA is scheduled to expire Sept. 15. A request to the NHL seeking comment about the status of talks wasn't immediately returned.

After receiving the league's initial proposal, the union requested audited financial statements from all 30 teams and ended up being delivered some 76,000 pages of information last week. Soon after, Fehr departed for Europe to meet with players.

"I'm at the stage where I could use some nine- or 10-day weeks," he said.

The NHLPA's counter-proposal is likely to dictate the immediate direction of talks, especially since the league's pitch called for numerous concessions from players. The 24 per cent rollback in salary would represent a collective reduction of $450 million from last season while such items as the elimination of salary arbitration and contract limits of five years have also been put on the table.

After a recent negotiating session, Fehr indicated players were "not enamoured" with what was being proposed. Among the items the NHLPA is expected to seek in a new agreement is an expanded revenue sharing system between teams and changes that could make the salary cap more flexible.

However, Fehr wanted to consult as many union members as possible before responding to the NHL's initial proposal. It's made for a busy travel schedule in the middle of talks.

"We're a union that operates all over everywhere, but we've only got about 725 players," said Fehr. "I think it's my job to keep in contact with them -- to explain to them what's going on, to answer all of those questions ... and to make sure that when we negotiate a contract we're doing it in a fashion which is consistent with what the players want and what they believe is appropriate.

"There is no substitute to meeting and talking and answering questions."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2012 D2

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