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.

Penguins edge Sharks 3-2 in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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Penguins edge Sharks 3-2 in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

PITTSBURGH - Nick Bonino's main job for the Pittsburgh Penguins is to get to the front of the net and create chaos. The well-bearded forward executed perfectly in his debut in the Stanley Cup Final.

Bonino took a pretty feed from the corner by Kris Letang and beat Martin Jones from in close with 2:33 remaining to lift the Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 on Monday night.

Rookies Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary staked Pittsburgh to an early two-goal lead before the Sharks tied it in the second period on goals by Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau. The Penguins responded by upping the pressure in the final period and it paid off with Bonino's fourth goal of the playoffs after he darted to the San Jose net in time to knuckle Letang's pass by Jones for the winner.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Matt Murray finished with 24 saves for Pittsburgh, which began its bid for the fourth title in franchise history by peppering Jones constantly in the first and final periods. Jones made 38 stops but couldn't get his blocker on Bonino's wrist shot. The Penguins threw 41 shots at Jones, well over the 28 he faced on average during San Jose's playoff run.

The Sharks made it to the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history by rebuilding themselves on the fly. Two years removed from a brutal collapse from a 3-0 series lead in the first round against Los Angeles, San Jose ended a 9,005 day wait to play in the NHL's championship round by relying on a tough, aggressive style that squeezes opponents with a relentless forecheck while limiting chances in front of Jones.

Yet veterans Marleau and Joe Thornton - the top two picks in the 1997 draft held in Pittsburgh who had waited nearly two decades to make it to the league's biggest stage - insisted the Sharks were hardly satisfied after dispatching St. Louis in a cathartic Western Conference finals.

Maybe, but the Sharks looked a step slow - maybe two steps slow - while searching for their footing against the Penguins, who rallied from a 3-2 deficit to edge the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games to advance to their first Cup Final since 2009.

Rust, who surprisingly made the team out of training camp and became an unlikely playoff star by scoring both of Pittsburgh's goals in Game 7 against the Lightning, gave the Penguins the lead 12:46 into the first when he slammed home a rebound off a Justin Schultz shot for his sixth of the postseason, a franchise record for playoff goals by a rookie.

Less than a minute later Sheary, who didn't become a regular until the middle of January, made it 2-0 when Sidney Crosby whipped a blind backhand cross-ice pass to Sheary's stick. The rookie's wrist shot from the right circle zipped by Jones and the Penguins appeared to be in complete command by overwhelming the Sharks in a way few have in months.

San Jose and its group of Cup newcomers regained its composure in the intermission and responded with a big surge. Hertl jammed a shot from just outside the crease between Murray's legs on the power play 3:02 into the second to give the Sharks momentum. Late in the second, Marleau collected a rebound off a Brent Burns one-timer behind the Pittsburgh net and then beat Murray on a wraparound to the far post that caromed off Murray's extended right leg and into the net.