Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL, and Steve Fehr of the NHL Players… (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images )
Just say it was the league that went up a hill but came down a mountain.
Twenty-two days after a top NHL official declared that term limits on player contracts were "the hill we will die on," the league engaged in a bit of selective amnesia.
The NHL submitted an amended collective bargaining proposal to the players' union that featured movement on the terms of contracts, proposing a six-year limit with an exception of seven-year agreements for clubs to re-sign their own free agents. Previously the proposal had been five years with the seven-year exception.
Included in the league's proposal was a deadline to start training camps by Jan. 12 for a Jan. 19 start to the season or the 2012-13 season would be canceled, according to a person with knowledge of the matter but not authorized to speak about it publicly.
This would closely mirror the lockout of 1994-95, which resulted in a 48-game season starting on Jan. 20. A handful of owners apparently have been exerting pressure on NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to make this latest move.
It was viewed as an incremental step, not a closing move, in many quarters.
"If it is take it or leave it, won't go anywhere," said influential player agent Allan Walsh on Friday via text message. "If it is invitation to bargain towards closing [the] deal, we may have something."
An official from the players' union said Friday afternoon that there were internal conference calls with the negotiating committee and executive board. It was expected there would be a conference call with the league Saturday, seeking clarification on some points of the latest offer, and a possibility of labor talks on Sunday in New York.
Publicly, the league would confirm only that a proposal was sent to the union Thursday. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, in a statement, called it a "new, comprehensive proposal."
Daly was the official theatrically invoking the dying-on-the-hill metaphor the night talks broke off on Dec. 6. (A federal mediator failed to jump-start negotiations the following week. Federal mediators were involved in negotiations twice.) Games already have been canceled through Jan. 14.
The league's latest offer also increased the year-to-year variance allowed within a contract to 10% from 5%, permitting each team to buy out one player as a "compliance" issue as the new labor deal goes into effect. The amount of that player's contract would not count against the salary cap but would count toward players' share of hockey-related revenues.
The NHL is said to be sticking to a 10-year term for the next labor deal, an opt-out clause for both sides after eight years, and a salary cap set at $60 million and no escrow limit.
Meanwhile, the league's "make-whole" offer of $300 million also remains intact as a means of easing players' transition from last season's 57% share of hockey-related revenues to a 50-50 split.