(Reuters) - The players’ union on Tuesday submitted a counter-proposal to the National Hockey League (NHL) which it said could “stabilize the industry” as the two parties continued talks in a bid to resolve a labor dispute that could threaten the 2012-13 season.
Hoping to avoid another lockout like the one that wiped out the entire 2004-05 NHL season, the union submitted a plan to reduce the players’ percentage of revenues for three years if owners agree to share greater revenue with struggling teams.
“What we are suggesting is that players partner with financially strong owners to help stabilize the industry and assist the less financially strong ownership groups,” NHL Players Association (NHLPA) executive director Donald Fehr told reporters.
Fehr said the players could give up $465 million in revenue if the league continues to grow at an average rate, though that number could rise to as much as $800 million if the growth matches the past two years.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman promised that owners would carefully analyze the proposal by the players’ union, with the hope to continue the labor talks in Toronto on Wednesday.
“It’s clear to me that they didn’t put it together in an hour or two,” Bettman said. “As a result, we’re going to need a little time to evaluate it, understand it and we told them that we’d go back to our offices and do that and that we would be prepared to meet again.”
If a new deal is not reached before the current collective bargaining agreement expires on September 15, the NHL could impose a lockout that would threaten regular season play and test the patience of fans.
While both sides have reached common ground on some smaller issues, including player safety, there remains a significant gap with regards to the economics of a new labor agreement as many teams feel they cannot survive under the current system.
The NHL wants to reduce the players’ share of hockey-related revenues to 46 percent from 57 percent despite enjoying record-breaking revenue of $3.3 billion last season along with an increase in television ratings.
NHL players Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos were among 23 players who attended the meeting on Tuesday.
The labor talks are expected to continue on Wednesday and Thursday at the NHLPA’s Toronto headquarters.
That gives the two sides barely a month to sort out their issues before training camps for the 2012-13 NHL season could face delays or cancellations.
The NHL’s 82-game regular season is currently scheduled to open on October 11 with eight teams in action.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Ian Ransom