For the first time in weeks, the NHL and NHLPA brass met face to face to try to reignite the labor negotiations and save a season that is a couple weeks from being canceled. The union presented the league with a counterproposal to the league's offer, which was made on Thursday.
"Not a lot to say," NHLPA head Donald Fehr said in a brief media scrum after the meetings broke just after 5 p.m. ET Monday in the crowded New Year's Eve streets of midtown Manhattan.
There was not a lot to say because Monday's meeting was spent mostly by the union giving the league the offer, which included the union answering whatever questions the league had. There was a lot to digest, as Gary Bettman explained.
"We spent the better part of the afternoon with the players association," Bettman said. "They were responding to the proposal we made on Thursday and their response was a comprehensive one dealing with the full slate of issues we raised. We're in the process of reviewing their response. We're going to do that tonight and our expectation is to contact them tomorrow morning and try to get together again perhaps tomorrow afternoon."
There were some reports on Monday that the union was going to introduce a new wrinkle to the negotiations and ask for the players to receive a share of future revenue from expansion and/or relocation fees but that didn't come to fruition.
At this point what was in the offer is staying under wraps, a pretty stark contrast from how things have gone before and perhaps is a sign that they are getting serious. Leaks are almost never a good sign in negotiations such as these. What we do know, though, is the offer was a full one from the union.
"We made a comprehensive proposal that was 290-some pages and they came back with a comprehensive response and we need time to review that," Bettman said. "The process continues and we're anticipating getting back together."
Really, we're at the point (OK, we've been at that point) of reading as much into things as we can and there are some positives to read into here. Previously when the NHLPA had given the league proposals, the NHL had ended the meeting very quick and left in a huff. That didn't happen this time as they instead spent a few hours together. Bettman seemed much more calm and composed than the last time he met with the media.
In the case of both Fehr and Bettman, they kept things brief and pretty much free of posturing, a completely welcome site at this point.
Quietly in Bettman's scrum was his confirmation of a drop-dead date for the NHL. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly had previously alluded to mid-January being the cutoff point but wouldn't pin a strict date on it. Bettman did.
"What we said is we need to drop the puck by Jan. 19 to play a 48-game season and we don't think we can play a season less than that," Bettman said.
Remember, though, that would be the deadline to start the season, not for negotiations to end. You can cut a week off that number to figure out when we need a deal by.
There is certainly still work to do, and we aren't likely to be greeted with a new season for the first day of the new year, but they are getting there, step by step.