NHL's offer is a start, not a finish, to negotiations

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NHL's offer is a start, not a finish, to negotiations

The buzz words were all present in the hours following the NHLs first significant offer in its months-long labor tussle with the NHLPA.

Words like "cautiously optimistic". And "a first step in the right direction".

The enthusiasm may sound tempered from the players' side, but it should be remembered that this is the league's first legitimate effort to end its lockout, which has wiped out the first weeks of the regular season. If seen in that light -- especially after the owners' first, insultingly one-sided "offer" that had no chance of being accepted by the NHLPA -- it is exactly what the players called it: A first step in the right direction.

Now comes the nitty-gritty of negotiations, but this proposal pretty much guarantees the sides will eventually find a workable middle ground. While it might not happen soon enough for the league to begin an 82-game regular-season schedule on Nov. 2, as commissioner Gary Bettman hopes, one player indicated theres a belief in the NHLPA that an 82-game schedule is still possible even if the season doesnt begin until Nov. 15, and that the NHL is prepared to extend the regular season by a few weeks to ensure a full year.

It could be that we dont have a deal in time to start the season on Nov. 2 because things would have to happen pretty quickly for that to be realistic, said a player who spoke on the condition of anonymity to CSNNE.com. Theres still some work to do here and things that need to be ironed out.

"But it appears that weve turned the corner to real negotiations, and thats a good thing.

The offer calls for a 5050 split of all Hockey Related Revenue -- in the last year of the just-expired CBA, the players received 57 percent of all HRR -- which would translate into a 12 percent pay cut across the board for the players. The salary cap would top out at 59.9 million next year. It would be a big hit for the players to take immediately, but those are the kinds of problem areas the league and the NHLPA now appear willing to address with things like salary protection and one-year adjustment exceptions for the 2012-13 season.

The players held a 90-minute NHLPA conference call late Tuesday afternoon to discuss the owners' proposal.

"It's good that we had a long conference call because it means that we actually had something to talk about, one player told CSNNE.com. It's a step in the right direction. If the league's latest offer was the first offer that we received months ago, then we'd be playing hockey right now."

Another source told Comcast SportsNet that Tuesdays proposal was the first good faith offer in the entire process, and an appropriate response from the players would be forthcoming in the next few days. Its expected the NHLPA will pore through the four-page document on Wednesday, and submit their own counterproposal during face-to-face discussions on Thursday. One player told CSNNE.com there was some very vague language in the NHLs offer that will require clarification before the union can move forward, and that will happen during a phone call on Wednesday.

But credit Bettman and the NHL for their first brilliant stroke of the CBA negotiations. There's now pressure on the NHLPA and executive director Donald Fehr to accept the 5050 offer everybody believed would be the end result of negtoations.

The next move from the NHLPA will be telling, and will need to be shrewdly constructed. The players will look like the bad guys if they cant find a way to work off the leagues offer and make something happen by the end of the next week, a timetable that would fit right into a week-long training camp and a season start at the beginning of November.

The NHLPA will likely be looking for more than the 200 million earmarked for revenue sharing, and seeking something a little more reasonable in player contract rights. Theyll also want to know how the NHL will pay the players back with deferred payments for the 12 percent theyre sacrificing in the first year of a new deal.

The one unknown factor in all this:

Is the NHL willing to negotiate its Tuesday offer, or is this another take-it-or-leave-it power move from Bettman? That will be the key in determining just how quickly the NHL regular season begins.

There was plenty of chatter on the NHLPA conference call linking the NHL talks this fall with last years NBA negotiations and thats no coincidence, given that the same group of lawyers have advised each league in both instances.

The NBA -- which locked out its players in 2011-12 -- made its first legitimate offer after roughly the same amount of time had passed (and, not coincidentally, after paycheck periods had been missed) in order for the season to begin by its target of Christmas Day.

If the NHL's goal is to begin in November and play a complete regular season, Tuesday's timing makes complete sense.

Now it's up to Bettman and Fehr to show why theyre regarded as master negotiators. The hockey leadership can only hope that things proceed as they did last year in the NBA, that the bulk of the NHL regular season is played, and that the lockout is a fleeting memory when the Red Wings and Maple Leafs tangle outdoors at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day.

An NHL resolution is so close that many fans, players and media can practically touch the return of hockey. But its important to remember there are miles to go before Bettman and Fehr can sleep.

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

BOSTON -- For a team where offense has been a major problem area this season, lighting the lamp four times against the Florida Panthers on Monday night was a welcomed sight for the Bruins indeed.

The Bruins won it in dazzling fashion with a 4-3 overtime win on a David Pastrnak rush to the net after he totally undressed D-man Mike Matheson on his way to the painted area, and then skill took over for him easily beating Roberto Luongo with a skate-off goal.

That was the game-breaker doing his thing and finishing with a pair of goals in victory, and continuing to push a pace that has the 20-year-old right wing on track for more than 40 goals this season.

That would give the Bruins just their fourth 40-goal scorer in the last 25 years of franchise history (Glen Murray in 2002-03, Bill Guerin in 2001-02 and Cam Neely in 1993-94), and mark one of the bigger reasons behind an expected offensive surge that may just be coming for a Black and Gold group currently ranked 23rd in the league in offense.

They just hope that the four strikes vs. Florida is indeed a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the season after serving as just the eighth time in just 26 games this season that they scored more than two goals.

“[There have been] a lot of tight games and low-scoring games, you’re right. It’s good, but as a goalie, I’m not happy when I let in three goals, ever. But it’s great to see that scoring support,” said Tuukka Rask. “When you get four goals, you expect to win, and a lot of times when we get three, I expect to win. It’s great to see [an uptick in scoring].”

So what is there to be optimistic about from a B’s offensive perspective aside from Pastrnak blowing up for a couple more goals to keep pace among the NHL league leaders with Sidney Crosby and Patrick Laine?

Well, the Bruins are starting to see results from crashing to the front of the net, attacking in the offensive zone and finally finishing off plays after serving as one of the best puck possession teams in the league over the first few months.

Just look at how the goals were scored, and how the Bruins are working in closer to the net rather than settling for perimeter plays.

The first goal on Monday night was a result of Tim Schaller crashing down the slot area for a perfectly executed one-timer feed from David Krejci. Similarly David Pastrnak was hanging around in front of the net in the second period when a no-look, spinning Brad Marchand dish from behind the net came his way, and he wasn’t going to miss from that range against Roberto Luongo. Then David Backes parked his big body in front of the Florida net in the third period, and redirected a Ryan Spooner shot up and over Luongo for the score that got the Bruins into overtime.

It’s one of a couple of goals scored by Backes down low recently, and his third goal in the last five games as he heats up with his playmaking center in Krejci. The 32-year-old Backes now has seven goals on the season and is on pace for 26 goals after a bit of a slow start, and the offense is coming for that line as they still search for balance in their two-way hockey play.

“A few more guys are feeling [better] about their games, and know that we’re capable of putting a crooked number up like that. It bodes well moving forward,” said Backes. “But you can’t think that we’re going to relax after the effort that we put in. We’ve got to skill to those dirty areas and still get those second and third chances, and not take anything off during those opportunities. It’s got to go to the back of the net.

“With the way Tuukka has played, and our defense has been stingy and our penalty kill has been on, four goals should be a win for our team. It hasn’t always been easy for us this year. It’s been a process, but I think you’re starting to see the things that you need to see in order for us to score goals. We’re going to the front of the net and getting extended offensive zone time, and then you find a few guys like Pasta in the slot. That’s a good recipe for us.”

Then there’s Ryan Spooner, who enjoyed his best game of the season on Monday night and set up the B’s third goal of the game with his speed and creativity. It was noticeable watching Spooner play with his unbridled skating speed and creative playmaking, and it made a discernible difference in Boston’s overall offensive attack against Florida. It’s something that Claude Julien is hoping to see more of moving forward from Spooner after recent trade rumors really seemed to spark the 23-year-old center, and also knocked some of the inconsistency from a player that’s extremely dangerous offensively when he’s “on.”

“It’s obvious that if Ryan wants to give us those kinds of games, then we have lots of time for him. When he doesn’t we just can’t afford to give him that kind of ice time,” said Julien. “There are games where he hasn’t been as involved, and it’s obvious and apparent to everybody that when he’s not getting involved then he’s not helping our team. When he is playing the way he did yesterday, we can certainly use that player more than not. We’d love to see him get consistent with those kinds of games.”

So while it’s clear the Bruins aren’t completely out of the woods offensively and there are still players like Patrice Bergeron sitting below their usual offensive numbers, it’s also been a little mystifying to watch Boston struggle so much offensively given their talent level.

The Black and Gold fully realized that potential in taking a tough divisional game from Florida on Monday night, and they hope it’s something to build on as the schedule doesn’t let up at all in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while Dave Dombrowski is collecting stars and talent over at Fenway Park. I dig it.

*Interesting piece about switching teams in the NHL and leaving behind old allegiances when the job calls for it.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Harvey Fialkov looks at the connections between the Bruins and the Florida Panthers, and more specifically with the Panthers and the Boston-area.

*A rumor round-up across the NHL including the humorous nugget that the Bruins are looking to move Jimmy Hayes. Yes, they are looking to move Hayes. They are begging some other NHL team to take on the player and the contract for somebody that has one point since last February. It’s not happening.

*Escrow is at the heart of the next negotiation between the NHL and the NHLPA, and I really thought it was going to be years before I’d have to even think about the CBA again.

*Tough break for the Florida Panthers losing Keith Yandle for a long period of time after he was injured last night vs. the Bruins. FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mike Halford has the story at Pro Hockey Talk.

*Wild coach Bruce Boudreau talks his “bucket list”, which includes a lot of movies and even a stint as a movie reviewer for the Manchester Union Leader back in the day.

*Sounds like Pat Maroon might want to sit out the next few plays after calling hockey a “man’s game” among other things.

*For something completely different: Yup, I’m pretty okay with the Red Sox blowing up the prospect cupboard for Chris Sale.