NEW YORK -- With the possibility of another lockout beginning to loom large, the NHL took what commissioner Gary Bettman termed a "significant" and "meaningful" step in negotiations on Tuesday.
It remains to be seen whether the players' association shares that view.
Collective bargaining talks resumed with the NHL tabling a proposal Bettman hailed as being much stronger than the initial one put forth by the league on July 13. He didn't provide specific details, but a source told The Canadian Press the offer would see the players' share of revenue reduced to 51.6 per cent in the first year of the deal and 50.5 per cent in the second -- and wouldn't include a rollback on existing contracts.
"It was a proposal that we believe is significant and had meaningful movement," said Bettman. "It was also designed to address issues that they've raised with us and to address the proposal they last made to us in terms of structure and format."
The union is expected to provide a response when the sides meet again today. Executive director Donald Fehr first wanted to take more time to evaluate the deal more closely.
However, the early word leaking from the players' side was they weren't enamoured with what was put forward -- and Fehr hardly sounded enthused.
"It's a proposal that we intend to respond to," he said. "I'm just going to leave it at that."
The players received 57 per cent of revenues under the expiring agreement and the NHL's original proposal called for that number to be scaled back to 43 per cent. The union countered with an offer that would see it fall around 54 per cent for three years before returning to 57 per cent in the fourth.
With the NHL's latest offer, the sides appear to be creeping a little closer on what they've been referring to as the "core economic issue."
According to a source, Tuesday's proposal from the NHL called for a six-year deal -- the first three delinked from hockey-related revenues and the last three coming with a 50-50 split (when factoring in a redefinition of HRR). As a result, the salary cap would climb from $58 million in 2012-13 to approximately $71 million in 2017-18, the last season of the contract.
Pressure is mounting with the CBA set to expire Sept. 15 and the league having already stated it will lock the players out if a new agreement isn't in place by then.
There's a growing feeling throughout the sport that it's an inevitability. Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise, who signed a monster US$98-million, 13-year deal in free agency, became the latest to voice that opinion this week when he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that "Gary's pretty adamant about his third lockout of his tenure."
On Tuesday, Bettman expressed hope the league's latest proposal would start focusing the discussion at the bargaining table.
"We need to get on the same page on the economics and we're hoping that by virtue of the proposal we made today that there will be some traction and that there will be a framework for the negotiation," he said.
-- The Canadian Press