By RONALD BLUM, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — NHL labor negotiations will resume Thursday after the players' union reviewed management's proposal and saw it as only a small step forward to ending the monthlong lockout.
The NHL made the proposal Tuesday in what it said was an attempt to preserve a full 82-game schedule. The league publicly released the plan Wednesday.
NHL players' union head Donald Fehr met with players to formulate the union's response. In a letter to players and agents, he said the management plan would cost his members more than $1.6 billion over six years.
"Simply put, the owners' new proposal, while not quite as Draconian as their previous proposals, still represents enormous reductions in player salaries and individual contracting rights," Fehr said in the letter, according to a report by TSN. "As you will see, at the 5 percent industry growth rate the owners predict, the salary reduction over six years exceeds $1.6 billion. What do the owners offer in return?"
The lockout began Sept. 16 and last week the league canceled regular-season games through Oct. 24. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, in announcing the new proposal, called it "a fair offer for a long-term deal" and "one that we hope gets a positive reaction."
"We're studying it and we're trying to get ready to give a response tomorrow," said union lawyer Steve Fehr, brother of the union leader.
In the midst of their third lockout since 1994, owners gave the union what the league called a "proposal to save 82-game season." The NHL said it hoped a deal would be reached by Oct 25 and the season would start by Nov. 2, three weeks behind schedule.
"We do not yet know whether this proposal is a serious attempt to negotiate an agreement, or just another step down the road," Donald Fehr wrote. "The next several days will be, in large part, an effort to discover the answer to that question."
NHL spokesman Frank Brown said the league was not responding to Fehr's letter.
The NHL released details of its offer for a six-year deal with a mutual option for a seventh. The plan includes a 50-50 split in hockey related revenue
The NHL proposed in July to cut the percentage of hockey related revenue from 57 percent to 43 percent, then increased its offer in September to about 47 percent.
Winnipeg Jets forward Olli Jokinen called the plan a "starting point," according to The Canadian Press.
"I hope we can get going ASAP," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall told The Associated Press on Wednesday night. "We will be presenting something soon and hopefully this week's proposals will spark things in the right direction. Still some work to get done."
Management included a provision to ensure players receive all money promised in existing contracts, but the union is concerned with what management termed the "make-whole provision." If the players' share falls short of their $1.883 billion in 2011-12, up to $149 million in the first year of a new deal and up to $62 million in the second would be repaid to players as deferred compensation. However, the union believes that money would be counted against the players' share in later years.
The latest proposal also includes:
—A listed salary cap of $59.9 million for the 2012-13 season, with a provision each team could spend up to $70.2 million during a transition season.
—Changing eligibility for unrestricted free agency from age 27 or seven years of service to age 28 or eight years of service, down from 10 years of service in the league's earlier proposal.
—Increasing eligibility for salary arbitration from four years to five years.
—Including all years of existing contracts beyond five years against a team's cap, regardless of where a player is playing. If a player is traded and retires or stops playing, the applicable cap charge would be applied against the team that originally signed the contact.
—The reduction of entry-level contracts to two years.
—A term limit on any contract beyond that set at five years and a stipulation that the average annual value can only vary up to five percent. This is a mechanism designed to eliminate long-term, back-loaded contracts. The NHL wants to prohibit lengthy deals, such as the $98 million, 13-year contracts Minnesota agreed to in July with forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.
—The elimination of re-entry waivers.
—Increasing the annual revenue sharing pool by 33 percent to $200 million, assuming annual league revenue of $3.033 billion, with a provision that half the pool be funded by the 10 teams with the highest gross revenue. A cutout against clubs in large media markets, such as Anaheim, New Jersey and the New York Islanders, and clawbacks against not selling enough tickets would be eliminated. A new revenue sharing committee, which would include NHLPA representation, would have input to determine distribution.
Among the items not addressed in the league's public detailing of its offer was realignment, drug testing or the NHL's participation in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
AP Hockey Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.