NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman arrives for a negotiation session with the… (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images )
NEW YORK -- The delegations of NHL owners and players who appeared to make some progress toward a new labor agreement during a direct meeting on Tuesday held separate discussions Wednesday morning before owners left to attend a long-scheduled meeting of the league's Board of Governors.
The discussions Wednesday weren't long enough for either side to produce a new proposal that could have been debated in the governors’ meetings. The governors’ session began at 8 a.m. PST at the offices of a New York law firm.
The owners and players who met Tuesday are expected to meet again Wednesday afternoon, following the conclusion of the governors’ meeting. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is tentatively scheduled to appear at a news conference after that meeting, but league officials said Bettman might not make himself available in order to avoid answering questions about the negotiations.
Neither Bettman nor Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Assn., participated in the Tuesday meetings, which took place in two sessions.
California supermarket mogul Ron Burkle, who helped Mario Lemieux purchase the Penguins and secure the franchise's future in Pittsburgh, has been widely credited with introducing a conciliatory tone into the meetings on Tuesday. Players who had become alienated by the hard-line tactics and demeanor of Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs were receptive to Burkle and his willingness to listen, according to various people familiar with the talks but not authorized to speak about them.
It's believed that many big-market teams are eager to play as soon as possible and would accept the last proposals that were put on the table, but small-market teams want more concessions that they say will help their ability to operate profitably.
The league and the NHLPA have agreed on a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues but differ on how to pay the full value of existing contracts during the first years of a new deal as players go from a 57% share of hockey-related revenues to 50%. The league has also proposed restrictions on free agency, salary arbitration and the length of contracts, all to slow the growth of salaries.
The owner-player negotiations have come at a crucial juncture in the collective bargaining process. The NHL has canceled games through Dec. 14, as well as the Winter Classic and All-Star game. A new labor agreement would have to be in place soon in order to start the season by late December or early January and salvage a substantive piece of the 2012-13 season. League revenues have suffered a severe blow and will only get worse the longer the lockout goes.
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