Less than 24 hours after the cancellation of the Winter Classic, the NHL's signature regular-season event, the league and the players union negotiated Saturday for the first time since Oct. 18.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly and union lawyer Steve Fehr met for talks at an undisclosed location to avoid media distractions, they said. Neither side issued a statement characterizing the talks, and Daly declined to comment in an email to the New York Times.
The meeting started in the afternoon and lasted into the night, reports said.
The core issue remains splitting league revenue. Both agree the revenue split will be 50-50. But the league wants it implemented immediately. The players, who last season received 57 percent, prefer it to be gradually phased in so existing contracts to be honored in full. They have agreed to an immediate drop to 50 percent if all existing contracts are fully paid.
The other big topic of conversation Saturday was a report that in informal talks between Daly and Fehr last week, Daly said the league would be willing to change its position on covering players' salary reductions that would occur with the immediate drop to 50 percent.
Called the "make whole" provision, the league originally proposed that essentially the players end up paying back themselves in a formula stretched over a few years. Daly said in the informal talks the league would be willing to shift the payback to the owners, Canada's TSN network reported.
Union executive director Donald Fehr said in a memo to the players they should not "read too much into media reports about informal phone calls" and no formal proposals has been made by either side since the previous negotiating session Oct. 18.
"In informal conversations with the NHL (last) week, we have continued to explore how we can get back to the table and discussed with the NHL the issues we need to resolve, including the 'make-whole' provision," Donald Fehr said. "We will continue to keep you updated and will let you know if anything concrete comes from these discussions."
If a revised league proposal on existing contracts is met favorably by union negotiators, it would be a sign of real progress.
That Saturday's talks were held in an undisclosed location — the first time that has happened since talks began during the summer — would seem an indication of how serious both sides are about reaching a deal.
The lockout reached its 49th day Saturday. The league Friday canceled its annual outdoor game, which had been scheduled for Jan. 1 with the Red Wings and Maple Leafs playing at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
The loss of the NHL's biggest regular-season event is disastrous to a league that vastly improved its image in recent years. Now the overriding impression of the NHL is not that of the league that presents a snow-globe outdoor rink surrounded by 100,000 fans, but of a league in its third lockout since the 1994-95 season, all during commissioner Gary Bettman's tenure.
Games previously had been canceled through Nov. 30, and the league has said it's no longer possible to play a full season if an agreement is reached. Daly said Friday no further cancellations were expected "in the near term."