League, players talk in bid to save season

League, players talk in bid to save season

NEW YORK - Agence France-Presse
League, players talk in bid to save season

This file photo shows commissioner Gary Bettman (L) and Bill Daly, deputy commissioner, after a collective bargaining meeting. REUTERS photo

NHL owners and players continued talks aimed at saving a shortened season, with a contract agreement needed by mid-January in order to get games on the ice.

“The fact that we’re involved in a continuous process is something that I’m glad to see,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said as discussions ended for the day. “But we’re clearly not done yet.”

The two sides were expected to meet again yesterday as they weigh the latest proposals and counter-proposals for a new collective bargaining agreement.

On Dec. 31, the NHL Players’ Association presented a response to the latest contract proposal from the league.

Deputy NHL commissioner, Bill Daly, declined to go into specifics on that offer, but the proposal was reported to include a six-year limit on player contracts, up from the five years the league had sought previously, along with movement toward the players on issues including year-to-year salary variance and contract buy-out regulations. Bettman said the league moved toward the players again on some issues, but not all.

“In our response there were certain things that the players’ association asked for that we agreed to,” Bettman said. “There were some things that we moved in their direction and there were other things that we said ‘No’, but that’s part of the process.”

The fact that the sides are at least talking is heartening for fans, but time is short.

Team owners have already wiped out 625 games up to January 14, just over half the planned schedule that was to have started in October, and vow they will not stage a season with less than 48 games per team.

Bettman said that play would have to start by Jan. 19 if the NHL is to prevent the loss of the entire season to the lockout, which began in September.

If play does not start by then, the league is faced with canceling the entire season for the second time, after a similar bitter dispute over finances scuppered all games in 2004-05.