NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Don Fehr met in New York for more than 4 hours with federal mediator Scot L. Beckenbaugh Wednesday night and into Thursday morning but emerged to say differences remain between the owners and players as they try to salvage a shortened season.
“There has been some progress, but we're still apart on a number of issues,” Bettman told reporters early Thursday morning. “But, as long as the process continues, I am hopeful.”
Fehr shared a similar opinion.
“The parties moved closer together on some issues but there is still a ways to go if an agreement can be reached,” he said, “and we'll consider where we are in the morning and figure out what we do next. That's about all I can say about the process.”
The two sides were expected to meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday.
The NHLPA allowed Wednesday night’s midnight deadline to pass without filing a Disclaimer of Interest, which shows a belief that the two sides can come to an agreement without players going to the courts and filing anti-trust lawsuits.
Bettman and Fehr declined to get into specifics on what is keeping the two sides apart, but the funding of player pensions has become a real sticking point.
“The number of variables and the number of issues that have to be addressed by people that carry the title ‘actuary’ or ‘pension lawyer’ are pretty numerous,” Bettman said, “and it's pretty easy to get off track.
“But that's something we understand is important to the players and if we can get the issues resolved we're hopeful we can satisfy the players on that issue. But that's still a work in progress.”
The NHL’s pension plan has been inferior to other professional leagues for years and the players are asking the league to cover any shortfalls in projected revenue. The league has argued that pension funds should be taken from hockey-related revenue.
The two sides are also at odds over the proposed $60 million salary cap for next season. The players would like to see that raised by at least $3 million.
The two sides have until Jan. 11 to come to an agreement. After that date, Bettman said all hopes of a 48-game season beginning on Jan. 19 will be lost.