NEW YORK — With an 82-game schedule hanging in the balance, the NHL's players union will respond to the league's latest contract offer during talks today in Toronto.
But the proposal, which the league made Tuesday and posted an overview of on its website Wednesday, drew a negative response from Donald Fehr, the union's executive director.
"While not quite as Draconian as their previous proposals, it still represents enormous reductions in player salaries and individual contracting rights," he wrote in a letter to players and agents, according to Canada's TSN. "At the five-percent industry growth rate the owners predict, the salary reduction over six years exceeds $1.6 billion. What do the owners offer in return?
"We do not yet know whether this proposal is a serious attempt to negotiate an agreement or just another step down the road. The next several days will be, in large part, an effort to discover the answer to that question."
The NHL declined to comment on Fehr's letter.
Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews also was unimpressed.
"It's not anything to get overly excited about," Chicago's captain said. "If they were that desperate to conserve an 82-game season … (a deal) would have been done already. There's no real effort there."
Jets wing Olli Jokinen called the offer a "starting point."
The NHL hopes a deal can be finalized and approved by the union by Oct. 25, camps open Oct. 26 and the season begins Nov. 2. The lockout began Sept. 16, and last week, the league canceled regular-season games through Oct. 24.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said it was "a fair offer for a long-term deal."
The proposal includes:
• A 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues; down from the 57 percent of the previous deal but up from the 43 percent of a July offer and about 47 percent of a September offer.
• A salary cap of $59.9 million for the upcoming season but provisions allowing teams to spend up to $70.2 million, the projected cap under the previous labor deal.
• Changing eligibility for unrestricted free agency from age 27 or seven years of service to 28 or eight years of service; down from 10 years of service in the league's previous proposal.
• Reducing entry-level contracts from three to two years.
• Maximum of five-year contracts that can vary in yearly salary by only five percent; designed to eliminate long-term, backloaded contracts.
• An increase in revenue sharing among owners by 33 percent to $200 million.
Items not addressed included realignment, which the union blocked in January, drug testing and participation in the 2014 Olympics.
The league also gave players and posted on nhl.com a letter underscoring its urgency.
"Delay (beyond Oct. 25) will necessarily leave us with an abbreviated season and will require the cancellation of signature NHL events," it read, likely referencing the Jan. 1 Winter Classic. "Failure to reach a prompt agreement will also have other significant and detrimental impacts on our fans, the game, our clubs, our business and the communities in which we play.
"All of this will obviously necessitate changes to this offer in the event we are unsuccessful in saving a full season."