TORONTO (AP) - NHL players showed up in force on Thursday as the union prepared to respond to the league's proposal to end the lockout and start a full season Nov. 2.
The NHL Players' Association confirmed it will make a new offer during negotiations on Thursday. Among the 18 players at the talks were Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Jonathan Toews and Eric Staal. The scene looked similar to one in August when the union made its first proposal.
On Tuesday, the NHL proposed a 50-50 hockey-related revenue split and an 82-game regular season. For that to happen, the sides must reach an agreement by Oct. 25.
Facing a firm deadline to preserve a full season, both sides are under pressure to complete a new deal. The union's counterproposal - and the league's reaction to it - could determine whether the league plays a full slate of games or there's a further disruption of the schedule.
"I hope we can get going ASAP," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "We will be presenting something soon, and hopefully this week's proposals will spark things in the right direction.
"Still some work to get done."
NHLPLA executive director Donald Fehr made that known on Wednesday - emphatically.
Fehr met with the union to formulate a response, and in a letter to players and agents said the management plan would cost his members more than $1.6 billion over six years.
"We do not yet know whether this proposal is a serious attempt to negotiate an agreement, or just another step down the road," Fehr wrote in the letter that was leaked to TSN. "The next several days will be, in large part, an effort to discover the answer to that question."
The NHL made its proposal Tuesday. At the time, Commissioner Gary Bettman called it the league's "best shot." The league then took the unprecedented step of publicly releasing the plan Wednesday online.
Fehr was much less optimistic. And though some players saw some hope in the plan, he viewed it as only a small step forward.
"Simply put, the owners' new proposal, while not quite as Draconian as their previous proposals, still represents enormous reductions in player salaries and individual contracting rights," Fehr said. "As you will see, at the 5 percent industry growth rate the owners predict, the salary reduction over six years exceeds $1.6 billion.
"What do the owners offer in return?"
That answer will have to wait. NHL spokesman Frank Brown said the league would not respond to Fehr's letter.
The lockout - the third of the Bettman era - began Sept. 16, and the league canceled regular-season games through Oct. 24. Bettman, in announcing the new proposal, called it "a fair offer for a long-term deal" and "one that we hope gets a positive reaction."
But the clock is ticking. There is only one week to strike a deal for the season to start by Nov. 2, three weeks behind schedule. If those deadlines are met, teams would be able to hold makeshift training camps for one week, and then play one extra game every five weeks to make up for the lost time and complete a full slate.
In releasing the details, the NHL confirmed the offer is for six years with a mutual option for a seventh. The plan includes a 50-50 split in hockey-related revenue, which is a step forward. The NHL had proposed in July to cut the percentage of HRR from 57 percent to 43, then increased its offer in September to about 47.
"There's a lot of parts of the proposal that we don't feel are very good from our standpoint and we're still giving up huge concessions in a lot of different areas," Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd said, according to The Canadian Press. "We'll address that in our proposal and go from there."
Management included a provision to ensure players receive all money promised in existing contracts, but the union is concerned with what management termed the "make-whole provision." If the players' share falls short of their $1.883 billion in 2011-12, the players would be paid up to $149 million of deferred compensation in the first year of a new deal and up to $62 million in the second. However, the union believes that money would be counted against the players' share in later years.
The latest proposal also includes:
- A listed salary cap of $59.9 million for the 2012-13 season, with a provision each team could spend up to $70.2 million during a transition season.
- Changing eligibility for unrestricted free agency from age 27 or seven years of service to age 28 or eight years of service, down from 10 years of service in the league's earlier proposal.
- Increasing eligibility for salary arbitration from four years to five years.
- Including all years of existing contracts beyond five years against a team's cap, regardless of where a player is playing. If a player is traded and retires or stops playing, the applicable cap charge would be applied against the team that originally signed the contact.
- The reduction of entry-level contracts to two years.
- A term limit of five years on any contract beyond and a stipulation that the average annual value can only vary up to 5 percent. This mechanism is designed to eliminate long-term, back-loaded contracts. The NHL wants to prohibit lengthy deals, such as the $98 million, 13-year contracts Minnesota agreed to in July with forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.
- The elimination of re-entry waivers.
- Increasing the annual revenue sharing pool by 33 percent to $200 million, assuming annual league revenue of $3.033 billion, with a provision that half the pool be funded by the 10 teams with the highest gross revenue. A cutout against clubs in large media markets, such as Anaheim, New Jersey and the New York Islanders, and clawbacks against not selling enough tickets would be eliminated. A new revenue sharing committee, which would include NHLPA representation, would have input to determine distribution.
Among the items not addressed in the league's public detailing of its offer was realignment, drug testing or the NHL's participation in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.