NEW YORK – The NHL and the players’ association will start the new year right where they ended the old one – at the bargaining table.
The sides got together Monday for the first time since Dec. 13, and the union brought along a counterproposal in response to the 288-page contract offer the NHL presented on Thursday. There were some discussions between the negotiators inside the league’s midtown Manhattan headquarters and some time spent apart in internal caucuses.
“This discussion was for us to respond and for them to ask questions and us to explain a number of the points we made,” union executive director Donald Fehr said. “We covered the range of subjects that their document included.”
After several hours passed, the NHL said it would be going over the players’ new contract offer on Monday night and would get back to the union in the morning. Commissioner Gary Bettman said he expected negotiations would restart this afternoon.
“There was an opportunity for the players’ association to highlight the areas that they thought we should focus on based on their response,” Bettman said. “That’s something we’ve now got to look at very closely in addition to the myriad other issues.”
Neither side chose to delve into details of what was offered in either of the proposals nor characterize any of the discussions that Fehr said “weren’t terribly long.”
The fact that neither offer was quickly dismissed could be taken as a positive sign that perhaps the gap has closed between them.
“I’m out of the prediction business,” Fehr said. “You get up every day and you try to figure out how to make an agreement that day, and if it fails you try and do it the next day.
“That’s exactly where we are.”
Bettman also reserved judgment when asked about progress.
“I think it would be premature for me to characterize it and not particularly helpful to the process,” he said.
This was the first meeting in nearly three weeks since the last round of negotiations with a federal mediator on Dec. 13.
Bettman said a deal needs to be reached by Jan. 11 to allow the season to begin by Jan. 19.
All games through Jan. 14 have been canceled, more than 50 percent of the original schedule.
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