The National Hockey League (NHL) and union representing its players exchanged proposals on Wednesday as negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement resumed with the threat of a lockout just days away.
The meeting was the first in almost a week and with the current deal set to expire at midnight on Saturday and owners prepared to impose a lockout, the next few days are crucial if the 2012-13 NHL season is to open as scheduled on October 11.
NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) head Donald Fehr arrived at the league's Manhattan headquarters with a proposal and the NHL ready with a counter offer it said would be off the table if players do not accept it before the current agreement expires.
"With every day we are experiencing, and will continue to experience, damage to the game and to the business of the game," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters.
"What we would be prepared to do now to make a deal before there is extensive damage is not the same that we will be prepared to do in the event we get to the point where we have suffered the damage."
The NHL's board of governors is set to hold meetings in New York on Thursday while the NHLPA will stage executive board and negotiating committee meetings, which are expected to be attended by close to 300 players.
No further formal negotiations are scheduled but Bettman said he was prepared to sit down and negotiate further with players at anytime.
"If there is a real intent on the other side to make a deal then we will get into a room make a deal and address the issues in a meaningful way," said Bettman. "We looked at their proposal and it was clear there wasn't very much movement at all."
The main sticking point in the dispute, which threatens a fourth work stoppage in 20 years, lies with the two sides at odds over how to divide $3.3 billion in revenue.
The NHL had wanted to reduce the players' share of hockey-related revenues to 46 percent from 57 percent despite enjoying record-breaking revenues last season along with an increase in television ratings.
Following the meeting, Bettman told reporters that under their latest offer the players' percentage of hockey related income would be trimmed by 7-9 percent, which the league says amounts to $250 million to $300 million more going to players from the previous proposal.
The players proposal is believed to be focused around taking a smaller share of projected revenues as the league grows but are reluctant to take another cut in salaries as they did in 2004-05 when a dispute wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.
"It is too early to say whether or not this is going to represent any meaningful progress," said Fehr. "The owners' position in bargaining is 'it worked so well last time we get to do it all over again. We now want another massive reduction in player salaries.'
"The commissioner has indicated that a lockout will begin if no agreement is reached and we take him at his word as we have the better part of year."
The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) also released a new set of guidelines on Wednesday for teams looking to sign NHL players in the event of a lockout.
Russian-based teams will be allowed to add three NHL players to their rosters but only one can be a foreigner.
To be eligible, the player must have either previous KHL experience, played no fewer than 150 NHL games over the last three seasons, represented his country at one of the last two IIHF world championships, world junior championships, Olympics or is a Stanley Cup finalist or winner.
Players must sign contracts for the entire season but, if the lockout ends, will be free to return to their NHL clubs.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)