The NHL and NHLPA met last night for over four hours with Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service Deputy Dir Scot Beckenbaugh at the league's offices until just before 1:00am ET. Although scant progress was believed to have been made, the union did not notify the league that it had filed a Disclaimer of Interest before a midnight deadline and negotiations continued. NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said the union retains "all legal options." A disclaimer can still be filed at a later date if the players re-voted to do so. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said more negotiations would take place today before Beckenbaugh. Chief among the issues still unresolved is player pensions. Fehr said, "Still a ways to go" (Christopher Botta, SportsBusiness Journal). In L.A., Helene Elliott notes Beckenbaugh has "mediated talks twice before" (L.A. TIMES, 1/3). In New Jersey, Tom Gulitti notes last night's negotiations marked "five proposals -- three from the league, two from the players -- over the last seven days" (Bergen RECORD, 1/3). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun writes the big news of the night was the NHLPA's exec board "not filing its disclaimer." Sources said that the NHLPA will "very much try to seek out authorization once again for filing a disclaiming -- via another player vote -- if there’s no deal in place 'very soon.'" LeBrun: "Still, it tells me that the players feel there has been enough traction in talks this week that a deal is doable" (ESPN.com, 1/3). In Newark, Rich Chere cites sources as saying that "minor progress was made but that there is still a lot to accomplish if a partial season is to be saved" (NJ.com, 1/3). Bettman and Fehr both said that there was "some traction in some areas," but ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang notes it is "not believed they reached an agreement on any of the issues paramount to each side." They still remain "divided on some of the big issues," including the "proposed salary cap for Year 2." A source said that the NHL is "asking for a $60 million cap in 2013-14 down from $70.2 million (pro-rated) in 2011-12, while the union is seeking $65 million." The source added that while it was believed that the union also may "request a cap on escrow, that has never been a component of any of its formal proposals" (ESPNNY.com, 1/3).
PENSION PLAN EMERGES AS KEY ISSUE: USA TODAY's Kevin Allen notes players are "very concerned about the new pension plan that has been proposed, particularly how it will be funded" (USATODAY.com, 1/3). In N.Y., Jeff Klein reports the union has proposed that "players finance the pension plan, but owners would be responsible for covering any potential shortfalls that might arise." The owners appeared to "be balking at assuming that risk" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/3). In Pittsburgh, Dave Molinari notes pensions had been "generally regarded as a settled issue for a while, but players say the league changed the language on pensions in the proposal it submitted last Thursday." Until then, players felt that pensions were "the one area where they would fare better under the CBA now being negotiated than they had under the one that expired Sept. 15" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/3). The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur notes for the players the pension issue has "suddenly become a matter of great importance -- not only is it a demonstrable victory for a huge subsection of players whose careers are short, but the players would prefer to transfer some risk to the owners in the event of possible shortfalls" (NATIONAL POST, 1/3). The CBC's Elliotte Friedman notes the players are "steamed about this one, especially since it looked like the two sides already agreed on the pension package." The owners are "concerned about who covers shortfalls and what happens after this whenever-signed-CBA is over." The players felt the league "went back on a promise to split that risk, a change that may cost them double what they'd expected." Friedman: "Is it possible the league will concede on this one for a 'get' somewhere else?" (CBC.ca, 1/3).
BEGINNING TO COMPROMISE: In Toronto, Damien Cox writes, "We're no longer talking about 20 or more issues. We’re down to four or five, one of the most prominent, surprisingly, being pensions, and the formula through which the league would be liable for a shortfall down the road." Pensions are a "symbolic and highly flammable issue between the league and the players because of the unflattering NHL history on the issue." Cox: "It’s a sticky issue. But resolvable" (TORONTO STAR, 1/3). Bettman said, "Pension plan is a very complicated issue. ... But that's something that we understand is important to the players" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/3). SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector writes seeking an "optimal pension plan, one of the few areas where the NHLPA still has a chance to claim victory, means that putting off the disclaimer is the smart move for now" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 1/3). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts notes the players are "being stubborn on the pension issue because they feel they have already made a lot more concessions than the owners." The biggest one in their eyes is "agreeing to drop their share of revenue" from 57% to 50%. It also was "originally thought the players wanted a cap on escrow payments, but that is apparently not the case" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/3). In Philadelphia, Sam Carchidi noted the NHLPA yesterday "made a huge concession ... backing off on its desire to have a cap on escrow payments" (PHILLY.com, 1/2).
APPROACHING DEADLINE: In Ottawa, Bruce Garrioch cites a source as saying the NHL is motivated to strike a deal by Jan. 11 because “there’s enough teams that have made it clear to Bettman that they’d rather play this year than see another cancelled season." The sides are "close to a deal on term limits for player contracts and the year-to-year salary variance, which could be in the 15-to-20% range." The term of the next CBA "still has to be agreed upon." The players also "desire to have at least one exhibition game if there is to be a shortened season this winter" (OTTAWA SUN, 1/3). ESPN.com's LeBrun writes, "My sense is they get a deal done over the next few days. I just think they're too close in the overall picture to let the Year 2 cap, the pension or any other of the remaining issues prevent this from getting done and save a season" (ESPN.com, 1/3).
CHANGING TACTICS: CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty wrote the sides have "finally patched up the leaky back channels that had consistently unearthed details about both sides’ offers, and done everything possible to make the other side look like mud." A silence has "dropped over the negotiations, and that is one of the most promising signs yet that a deal might [be] in the wings." It appears the NHL’s strategy was "to grind out the players until January, throw the non-traditional NHL markets a bone by cutting off their three least profitable months of the season, and then cut a deal before throwing itself off the NHL fiscal cliff" (CSNNE.com, 1/2). SI.com's Stu Hackel wrote the owners "should have steered away from all their divide-and-conquer stalling tactics, each designed to make the players miss paychecks, weaken their resolve, and get them to accept proposals that were always portrayed as 'the best we can do' when, in fact -- as Fehr told his troops -- there were always better offers waiting down the road after each intermission." The more the league "schemed, the more unified the players became." This was a "major miscalculation by ownership, one of many in this lockout" (SI.com, 1/2).
THE LAST DON: In Raleigh, Luke DeCock writes the players "have their self-respect back -- and, through Donald Fehr’s infuriating-but-effective stall tactics, probably gotten more out of the NHL than Gary Bettman ever imagined when he planned this lockout." It always was going to be "a bad deal for the players, but the deal they’re going to end up signing this month contains some vital elements that will soften the blow" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 1/3). The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin writes it was the owners themselves who "drove players into the arms of Fehr's classic labour perspective." From the moment Bettman proposed "a drop in players' share of revenues from 57 per cent to 46 per cent with four-year maximum contracts, players united behind Fehr." And the league "had the disastrous fight it spoiled for" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/3). In Winnipeg, Gary Lawless writes Fehr has "certainly fought a good fight for his players but it's over. Get on with it, Don." Do a deal "and go into hockey history as the man that revived the union." But "don't overstay your welcome" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 1/3). The TORONTO STAR's Cox wrote on his Twitter feed, "Fehr created the perception of player unity. But PA will eventually understand this has cost them hundreds of millions with nothing gained." He added, "Fehr's lack of understanding of hockey history shines thru. Key is to keep playing, NHL owners will always undercut themselves and partners" (TWITTER.com, 1/3). In Boston, Stephen Harris writes "give and take has occurred" from both sides. But fans everywhere wonder "why ... didn't these negotiations happen many months ago?" Once this "absurd mess is resolved, it's hard to see how Gary Bettman ... can continue as commissioner." And "isn't it time for the removal of Bruins owner Jerry Jacobs as chairman of the board of governors?" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/3).
IF THIS, THEN THAT: In Pittsburgh, Rob Rossi cited sources as saying that if the NHL and NHLPA agree on a new CBA, "the Penguins likely would face the Flyers in Philadelphia for a nationally televised matinee on Jan. 19." The sources also said that “plans are subject to change.” The sources added that a 48-game season “would begin Jan. 19, with most of the NHL‘s 30 clubs playing that day.” Games would be played “throughout the day as part of a celebration of hockey across North America.” A source said that rivalry games “would dominate Day 1 of the shortened season to placate the NHL's national television partners in the United States and Canada.” A 48-game schedule “will preserve most of the previously booked arena dates” (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/3). Meanwhile, the OTTAWA SUN's Garrioch cited Rogers Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos as reporting late Tuesday that the NHL and NHLPA “have had talks about allowing four more teams -- two each in the East and West -- into the post-season this spring.” That would “increase the playoff pool to 20 teams and would offer the opportunity to create more fan interest in the post-season this year” (OTTAWASUN.com, 1/2).