NHL offers 50-50 split to players

TORONTO -- The ball is now in the players' court.

The NHL injected life into a stagnant labor negotiation Tuesday, making a surprise offer to the NHL Players' Association that was highlighted by a 50-50 split in hockey-related revenue and a full 82-game season starting Nov. 2.

The tentative plan is for both sides to speak by phone Wednesday, with the NHLPA seeking clarification on a number of points, and then for the two sides to meet again Thursday, a source said.

The NHLPA held a conference call Tuesday evening to discuss the offer with the players' negotiating committee and the union's executive board.

"(The offer) is not short, and there were some explanatory documents that we still have to wade through,'' NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr told the assembled media at the union head office.

"So the process that we're going to engage in now is to make sure we read it completely and fully, that we understand it. ... Then, obviously, what we will do is discuss it internally with our own negotiating committee and executive board and then get back together with the NHL."

The key question players will have is just how the 50-50 split, down from the 57 percent earned by the players in the expired collective bargaining agreement, will affect their current signed contracts. That has been a key issue in these negotiations -- players not wanting to give up much, if any, of current signed salaries via escrow payments in any new CBA.

A source told ESPN.com that there is a mechanism in place in the league's latest offer to defer payments based on future growth -- in other words, the offer somewhat mitigates the players' financial pain in the first few years.

The deal also calls for a 2012-13 salary cap of $59.9 million, but teams can go over that cap all the way up to $70.2 million in Year 1 as part of transition to a new CBA, according to sources. By Year 2, they must comply with the cap.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the offer Tuesday at the NHLPA's head office in Toronto, where the league and the players' union finally discussed core economic issues rather than continuing to focus on secondary issues.

"We made a proposal, an offer, really that is our best shot at preserving an 82-game regular season and playoffs," Bettman said. "This offer that we made obviously was contingent upon having an 82-game regular season.

"So we have about nine or 10 days to get this all put to bed, signed, sealed and delivered, in order for this offer to be effective and for us to move forward."

Fehr said the offer is "at least six years in length." Sources said the offer is a six-year deal with a "mutual option" for a seventh year.

The NHL has backed down from earlier proposals for some systemic changes to player contracts, league sources told ESPN.com. Tuesday's offer also reopened the possibility of salary arbitration and called for unrestricted free agents to have at least eight years' service time (or be 28 years old), according to the sources.

The league maintained its stance on long-term contracts, wanting to cap deals at five years in length, sources told ESPN.com. The league's revenue-sharing offer calls for about $200 million, up from about $150 million in the last CBA, the sources said. At least 50 percent of the pool will be raised from the top 10 revenue-grossing clubs; the distribution of the revenue sharing will be determined every year by a revenue-sharing committee (which the NHLPA will be on), sources said.

The offer also calls for entry-level contracts to be two years in length, as opposed to the stipulated three years in the expired CBA, according to sources.

The NHL's last offer, on Sept. 13, called for the players to receive 49 percent of hockey-related revenue in Year 1, followed by 48 percent in Year 2 and then 47 for the remainder of the six-year deal.

The union's last offer, on Sept. 13, based on 7.1 percent revenue growth, called for the players' share to be 54.3 percent in Year 1 and end at 52.3 percent in Year 5.

Bettman said that to pull off the logistics of the schedule, each team would have one additional game every five weeks in order to get a full season in.

All teams would also hold a makeshift training camp, lasting approximately one week. Veteran players who signed contracts overseas would need to scramble back to their team headquarters, as will the younger players who are working in the minor leagues, such as the AHL, this month.

Multiple sources told ESPNNewYork.com that all clubs were asked to submit additional dates of arena availability to help put together a condensed or revised schedule. As the league scrambles to put together a full schedule, one source told ESPNNewYork.com that the All-Star Game could even be in jeopardy so regular-season games could be played that week.

The NHL locked out its players on Sept. 15, and the regular season was scheduled to begin on Oct. 11. A Nov. 2 start date would extend the season well into June but would preserve some of the marquee events, such as the Jan. 1 Winter Classic in Michigan.

This is the third lockout under Bettman's watch, but unlike the previous two, dialogue has remained steady. The two sides last met last week in New York.

The lockout, which already has wiped out the entire preseason, turned a month old Monday, the same day NHL players would have received their first league paychecks of the season, had there been hockey.

ESPNNewYork.com's Katie Strang and The Associated Press contributed to this report.