NEW YORK -- After weeks of limited contact between the NHL and NHLPA over the holidays, the two sides are now back to swapping proposals.
The NHLPA submitted a counterproposal to the league Monday and the two sides plan to talk again Tuesday morning.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league will take Monday night to review the offer before getting back to the union, but that they'll do their best to make a quick turnaround.
"We spent a good part of the afternoon with the players' association. They were responding to the proposal we made Thursday and their response was a comprehensive one, dealing with a full slate of issues that we raised and proposals that we put forth, and we're in the process of reviewing their response," he said. "We're going to do that tonight and our expectation is that we'll contact them (Tuesday) morning and arrange to get back together, hopefully, certainly by midday. We're going to try and turn this around overnight so we can continue the process."
The two sides met for just under three hours, including time spent while the NHL met internally to go over the NHLPA's proposal. Bettman declined to characterize the union's offer, beyond saying that it was "comprehensive."
"I think it would be premature for me to characterize it and not particularly helpful to the process," Bettman said.
Both sides were relatively tight-lipped in describing the day's events and the information exchanged. Asked if the union made any movement from its last offer -- made on Dec. 6 -- NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said: "Yes, but I'm not going to describe it beyond that."
Monday is the first time in more than two weeks that the two sides have been in the same room. The NHL and NHLPA met in person in mid-December in what ultimately turned out to be a (second) failed attempt at mediation.
The latest round of discussions, set right in the midst of the New Year's Eve frenzy in Times Square, comes with time winding down to save the season.
In the NHL's last offer -- submitted Thursday evening -- the league indicated the season would need to start on Jan. 19. For that to happen -- and to allow teams to hold a one-week training camp beforehand -- a deal would need to be reached by Jan. 11. Should the puck drop by the 19th, the season would be shortened to 48 games, with all teams playing only in-conference games.
Bettman re-affirmed this position with a definitive statement Monday, proclaiming the 19th as the necessary date for the season to open. The league has already canceled all regular-season games through Jan. 14.
"What we've said is we need to drop the puck by Jan. 19 if we're going to play a 48-game season," said Bettman. "We don't think it makes sense to play a season that is any shorter than that."(
Although the details of the union's counterproposal were not immediately known, the league's latest offer included concessions on term limits, salary variance and amnesty buyouts. The union was expected to push back for either a higher salary cap ceiling in 2013-14 or capped escrow.
The league's proposal featured a salary cap that would drop to $60 million in 2013-14, a steep decrease from the $70.2 million cap for the 2012-13 season (pro-rated).
In addition to the Jan. 19 deadline, the NHLPA has another one looming in the near future. The union has until Wednesday to file a disclaimer of interest, which would essentially dissolve the union and allow players to file an antitrust suit in court.
Fehr did not rule out that possibility, although it is believed that he and the majority of the union's membership would prefer to negotiate a deal than explore that option.
"Players retain all legal options they always have had," Fehr said. "Those things are internal matters. We don't discuss them."