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League tables "best shot" offer to end lockout with players

By Frank Pingue

TORONTO (Reuters) - The National Hockey League (NHL) tabled a proposal for a labor agreement on Tuesday that included an equal split of hockey-related revenue with players in a bid to bridge the gap on core economic issues and try to end the lockout.

The players' union said it was also hopeful an agreement could be reached but needed to review the entire proposal before making any further comment.

According to the NHL, the two sides have 10 days to strike a deal that would allow a full season and a week-long training camp to go ahead.

"We very much want to preserve a full 82-game season and in that light we made a proposal," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters after an hour-long meeting in Toronto with key negotiators from the league and union representing its players.

"It is our best shot at preserving an 82-game regular season and (Stanley Cup) playoffs."

The proposal, which is contingent on a full season starting on November 2, came one month after the NHL locked out its players when the previous deal expired with both sides at odds over how to divide a $3.3 billion revenue pie.

The lockout, the NHL's fourth work stoppage in 20 years, has already cost the league about $250 million in lost revenue after it canceled the entire preseason and the October 11-24 block of regular season games.

Bettman gave few specifics of the latest deal, calling it a "fair offer for a long-term deal" but said there was only a small window to get an agreement done.

If the two sides fail to reach a new collective bargaining agreement soon, the NHL was expected to cancel the next block of regular season games later this week.

The NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) said there were some explanatory documents it must wade through before deciding whether it could form the framework of a new agreement.

"What our hope is, is that after we review this that there will be a feeling on the players' side that this is a proposal from which we can negotiate and try and reach a conclusion," NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr told reporters.

"But we are not in a position to make any comments on it beyond that at this point."

Over 100 players, including Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and NHL most valuable player Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, have since signed deals to play in Europe while the two sides work to resolve the dispute.

Ahead of Tuesday's meeting, the NHL's latest offer was over six years and would see the players start with 49 percent of revenue and fall to 47 percent. Players received 57 percent of revenue under the old deal.

The most recent offer from the NHLPA was a five-year pact that would see the players' share in revenue drop from 54.3 percent of revenues to 52.7 percent over the course of the deal.

According to the NHL, the compressed schedule under the latest offer would result in each team playing an extra game every five weeks. It also addresses concerns players have about what happens to their salaries as a result in this year of reducing the percentage from 57 percent to 50 percent.

"Obviously, we didn't put this proposal, this offer, together overnight, and they're going to need a little time to review it," said Bettman, "I'm hoping that review will get us to a positive and constructive place."

(Editing by Julian Linden)

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