NEW YORK (USA TODAY) - NHL players will have to wait a few more hours to find out how close they are to an agreement that would finally launch the 2012-13 season.
Negotiators for the league were studying the players' latest proposal, which was delivered after 2:30 p.m. ET. There was a brief discussion of the plan before players departed to give league officials a chance to study the fourth proposal put forth by the two sides since last Thursday.
"We will hear from them when that process is completed," NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr said. "There is not a lot else to say."
Fehr said he hoped there would be more negotiations Wednesday night, although nothing had been finalized. Based on previous history, the two sides likely won't get back together before 8 p.m
Meanwhile, the NHLPA executive board still must decide Wednesday on whether to issue a "disclaimer of interest," which essentially would dissolve the union. The players overwhelmingly voted to give the NHLPA executive board the authority until Wednesday to embrace that move, which would open the door for players to sue the league using antitrust laws.
That wouldn't necessarily mean an end to hopes that a season could be played, but it does complicate matters with regard to how the two sides talk. The NBA's last collective bargaining agreement was completed after players issued a disclaimer,
Fehr didn't want to discuss what he planned to do, calling it "an internal matter." But the NHLPA is expected to announce its plans, one way or the other.
Since last Thursday, the negotiations have heated up with the owners and players trading proposals and then owners trying again last night to further bridge the gap on some of the key issues. Those include a term limit and a year-to-year variance on individual contracts, plus compliance rules as teams adjust to a lowering of the salary cap that will result from players agreeing to a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue.
No details have emerged on the last three offers, except that players now have concerns about their pension plans and how they would be funded. Smaller groups on each side are negotiating separately trying to resolve those differences.
The lack of leaks on both sides would seem to suggest that they are seriously trying to bridge the gap in order to start a 48-game season before Jan. 19
Although the NHLPA has favored a shorter collective bargaining agreement, players have informed the league they would be willing to accept a 10-year CBA if specific conditions are met. It's unknown what those conditions are.
Players are supportive of a shorter CBA, but many players would be happy to spend the next 10 years not worrying about another potential lockout.
Older players have already lost one season's pay because of the 2004-05 lockout, and they face the possibility of another season being canceled if the two sides don't reach an agreement over the next 10 days.
Players in town for Wednesday's meeting were Craig Adams, Brad Boyes, Chris Campoli, Mathieu Darche, Rick DiPietro, Shane Doan, Andrew Ference, Ron Hainsey, Jamal Mayers, George Parros, Martin St. Louis and Kevin Westgarth.
Also Wednesday, Ottawa Senators star Jason Spezza has left the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers to return to North America, the Swiss team said.
BY KEVIN ALLEN