NHL, players on track for settlement?

In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, a hockey goal sits on the ice at Joe Louis Arena home of the Detroit Red Wings hockey club in Detroit. The NHL lockout that's already wiped out the first three months of the season is taking its toll on small businesses in many of the NHL's markets. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

There finally is some urgency in the negotiations between the NHL and the players' union, and the sides seem on their way to ending their long labor dispute. 

But they are still ironing out some details _ and now it's the players' turn to study a counterproposal.

With the clock ticking toward a Jan. 11 deadline, the NHL frantically tried to save a shortened season in a brief late-night meeting Tuesday with the players’ union in New York.

The meeting was delayed several times — it started at about 9 p.m. — because the league wanted more time to respond to the union’s latest offer.

"They did make a comprehensive response," Donald Fehr, executive director of the players' union, told reporters.

The NHLPA also made some movement, agreeing to a 10-year collective bargaining agreement _ which is what the NHL wants _ with certain conditions, according to RDS in Canada.

The sides will talk on the phone Wednesday morning, then decide what time they will meet.

On Monday, the players’ union gave the NHL a 26-page response to the league’s 288-page proposal to end the labor dispute. The NHL had given the union its proposal on Thursday, saying it was contingent on having a collective bargaining agreement in place by Jan. 11 and having the season under way Jan. 19.

The NHL made more movement in Tuesday's counterproposal, said Gary Bettman, the league's commissioner. "It's a process that's ongoing and I'm thankful for that," he said.

Tuesday was the 108th day of the lockout. Games have been canceled through Jan. 14.

From the players’ perspective, there appear to be three main issues blocking a labor agreement. They reportedly want the 2013-14 salary cap to increase from $60 million to $67.5 million. They also are seeking a cap on escrow payments, and do not want 2013-14 amnesty buyouts to count against the union’s 50 percent share of hockey-related revenue.

In addition to union leaders, nine players attended Tuesday’s meeting.

The players have until Wednesday to file a disclaimer of interest, which would disband the union and enable them to file a lawsuit that claims the lockout is illegal. But with the sides again negotiating, it seems unlikely that the union will file.

NHL officials worked late into New Year’s Eve, studying the players’ proposal and trying to create an acceptable counteroffer. Feeling the labor dispute might soon end, some players — including Henrik Lundqvist, the New York Rangers’ star goalie — started to leave their teams in Europe and head home. 

If a settlement is reached, the NHL would have a one-week training camp before starting a 48-game season. After a labor battle ended in 1994-95, there was a 48-game regular season, and the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup.

Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.