Skating with fellow NHL players and others in Calgary to stay in shape during the lockout, Washington Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner sensed a different atmosphere after Tuesday's workout.
Commissioner Gary Bettman announced a proposal that included a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue, something that could be the first building block toward a collective bargaining agreement.
"Really happy to see that, and the guys were all talking about it at the rink today," Alzner said in a telephone interview. "You can kind of see a lot of peoples' spirits are lifted by this."
Optimism abounded Tuesday when the owners appeared to make concessions with the intention of getting a full 82-game season in, beginning Nov. 2. Full details beyond the 50-50 split were not immediately clear, and it's likely that this proposal will serve as more of a starting point for negotiations than the abrupt end to the lockout.
"Fifty-fifty is just a number, just a percentage point. You've got to look at the details of it and if anything has been changed in terms of HRR definitions and all the other stuff that still is big in terms of free agency, arbitration, all that stuff," Alzner said. "There's still a heck of a lot more that we need to know about. ... You get your hopes up a little bit, but there's still work to be done."
The work stoppage began Sept. 15, with no last-minute efforts made to keep the doors from being locked.
Negotiations were sparse since, and the public relations battle made the owners and NHL Players' Association into losers. That is, until Tuesday, when there finally was something to be hopeful about.
"I'm thrilled to see a legitimate proposal, one that's, in my opinion, more realistic than at least [the owners'] starting offer," Alzner said. "I don't know what the next step is, but seeing if that's a good offer, whatever the details of it are and go from there."
Bettman, who addressed reporters in Toronto after a brief negotiating session that included deputy commissioner Bill Daly, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and union special counsel Steve Fehr, called it the league's "best shot."
"We very much want to preserve a full 82-game season, and in that light, we made a proposal, an offer, really that is our best shot at preserving an 82-game regular season and playoffs," Bettman said. "We offered a 50-50 share of HRR, hockey-related revenues, and we believe we addressed the concern that players have about what happens to their salaries as a result in this year of reducing the percentage from 57 to 50 percent."
Players have been adamant about not giving back money on existing contracts.
"Every contract ends with a handshake, every single contract," Capitals player rep Brooks Laich said in mid-September. "Where I come from, you honor your handshakes and you have your word and if you don't have that, then you have nothing."
Bettman did not want to get into specifics but said "there is no rollback." In slashing players' share of hockey-related revenue 7 percent, escrow would likely be heavily involved. According to various reports, players would be paid back over time based on revenue growth.
According to the Canadian news outlet Sportsnet, the NHL's offer caps player contracts at five years and pushes unrestricted free agency to 28 years of age or eight years of service. Donald Fehr deferred talking about the details of the offer until he and the NHLPA could review it.
"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," he said. "I would like to believe that after were done with this that it will be an excellent starting point and we can go forward and see if there's a deal to be made."
Blackhawks player rep Steve Montador told the Chicago Sun-Times "Will the players accept it? I don't think so ... 50-50 can mean a lot of things." Given the course of negotiations so far, it would seem logical that at least a counter offer would need to be submitted before anything happens.
Bettman said with a Nov. 2 target date and this proposal being contingent on getting in a full 82-game season, the sides would need to get a deal done in the next nine to 10 days. That would allow for players to return from Europe and teams to hold one-week training camps.
Extra games would be fit in once every five weeks, Bettman said. Under this proposal, the Caps could begin the season Nov. 2 at home against the Boston Bruins.
That is still seen as far-fetched, as it would require a quick resolution. But Tuesday could have represented a beginning to that process.
"I've been looking for a way to get these negotiations jump-started, and if this does it, that'd be great," Fehr said. "We'll see though."
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