TORONTO - There is guarded optimism among a few NHL players that negotiations are finally about to get serious.
Or so they hope.
"A good way of putting it for myself and maybe most guys is we're being cautiously optimistic," said Flames forward Matt Stajan upon completion of an on-ice workout at a midtown Toronto rink. "You've seen things in negotiations that get everybody up and excited and they turn quite quickly."
The NHL offered a new proposal to the players on Tuesday morning, pressing forward its intent to preserve an 82-game season, one that would begin in early November. Centered around an even 50-50 per cent split of hockey-related revenue, the latest offer feels to Stajan and others like a hopeful starting point in negotiations, but one that could have been tabled far earlier in the proceedings.
"Hopefully this is a meaningful proposal and we'll come back at them and things keep rolling from there," said Stajan, "and it's not just a one-time 50/50 media stunt that looks great to everybody because that might be what it is; we don't know yet, but we'll find out."
Adding a measure of fuel to the prospect of a "media stunt" was the league's decision on Wednesday morning to release the specifics of their latest offer, noting in a press release that "full public disclosure at this stage is both necessary and appropriate."
"All this shows now to the media and to the fans is that both sides do want to see hockey get back on the ice," said Habs defenceman P.K. Subban. "They know from our side that we wanted to see it [back], but it's great to see them initiate and try to get things going."
The players, led by union chief Donald Fehr, are expected to offer a counter-proposal to the league on Thursday when the two sides meet again in Toronto.
"It's definitely an improvement on where they started which we all know where that was; it wasn't really a starting point," said Stajan of the league's first offer, which included a reduction of the players' share of HRR to 43 per cent. "Obviously we'll come back at them [with a counter-proposal] and how they respond to us will say a lot. Hopefully this will get an actual negotiation going and we can work out something fair for both sides. We want to be playing hockey, that's our goal, and we want do it where we're playing under a fair agreement."
Among the likely gripes from the current proposal are the immediate reduction of HRR from 57 per cent to 50 per cent, five-year contract term limits, a shift in the terms of unrestricted free agency (from seven years of service or age 27 to eight years and age 28), two-year entry-level contracts, and the NHL's "make whole" provision, which in the words of Fehr (in a letter to players and agents obtained by Bob McKenzie) is "players paying players".
"We're just happy to see that there is some movement and I think that the negotiating hopefully can start now," said Subban. "We don't want to get too excited here, it's just a start and I think that we'll see what happens over the next couple weeks here."
"I think both sides are missing the game and obviously the fans are [too]," concluded Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur. "Now that we've got the ball semi-rolling here, we want to keep it going and try and get back as soon as possible. Everyone wants to play, the owners and the players both want to get this thing going so let's make it happen."