The NHL and its players have no more than 10 days left to save a 48-game season, a league executive said in the wake of the owners' latest offer of a new collective agreement.
The executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's gag order on management, said the commissioner made it clear in the last two weeks to both the union and the 30 NHL teams the last possible date to start a shortened season is January 19. This would allow for a 48-game season, the shortest schedule Bettman says the owners would allow, plus playoffs that would conclude in late June.
In that case, the executive said, the players and owners need to reach a new agreement by Jan. 5 or 6. That would leave one week to complete enough of the legal paperwork for the lockout to end, another week for training camp and the season would start on Saturday, Jan. 19.
No matter which way the bargaining goes in the next week, the executive said, one thing is clear.
"I think everybody does recognize we're at the end," he said. "However the next week plays out, everybody knows what the end result is. We're either making a deal or we're all taking a very long vacation."
In its latest offer, which is 300 pages long and will be discussed by the NHL Players' Association members in a conference call that starts at 3 p.m. Friday, the NHL made a few concessions from a previous offer that was rejected by the players.
The league offered to increase the term limit on players contracts to six years from five, with teams allowed to sign their own players for seven years. It also increased the amount salaries can increase annually from five per cent to 10 and allows teams to make one "compliance buyout" of a contract in the summer of 2013 that would not count against its salary cap. But it would be charged against the players' 50-per-cent share of NHL revenue.
There was also movement on the salary cap for this season, as the NHL offered to let teams have a cap of $70.2-million (all currency U.S.) for 2012-13, although it would be pro-rated to account for the 34 games lost on the 82-game schedule to the lockout. But in 2013-14, the cap would drop to $60-million to reflect the move to a 50-50 split of NHL revenue between the owners and players.
The NHL executive declined to make any predictions on the chances of saving a partial season. But he knows everyone is fed up with the league.
"I think everybody is so tired of this, the media, the fans. If we don't play a season I think people will just be happy it's done," he said. "I don't think the media will even follow it any more. People don't even want to read about it any more."