Boston Bruins

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.

Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot

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Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot

BOSTON – At this point in training camp with just a couple of preseason games to go, Monday night’s performance might have represented the exclamation point on Anders Bjork’s impressive drive to win an NHL roster spot. The 21-year-old Bjork has scored other goals during this preseason, but Monday night’s tally in Boston’s 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks was his first while skating with prospective linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

“I think we had more ice time together, which helped us get more comfortable and helped me kind of learn their chemistry a bit more,” said Bjork, who finished with 21 goals and 52 points in 29 games for Notre Dame last season. “Obviously, they have a ton of chemistry and they’re very easy to play with, of course, but you know, it’s nice to get more shifts with them and kind of pick up on their patterns and stuff like that.”

In fact, it’s become easy to see Bjork now winning the right wing spot with No. 37 and No. 63 after watching them work together in perfect concert for Boston’s third goal of the night.

Already up by a 2-0 score, Marchand turned over a puck in the Chicago defensive zone while on the forecheck hunt, and managed to work it over to Bergeron for a quick, backhanded saucer pass to the slot area. The alert Bjork stepped up into the high slot and one-timed the puck past Corey Crawford to give the Bruins a three-goal lead on Monday night, and allow all involved a sigh of heavy relief that Boston has found at least one rookie ready to hold down top-6 NHL job.

“He’s got that speed and the smarts to get open and then find the openings in the quiet ice. It was a great play by him just to get open, and for me to see him. He made it really easy,” said Patrice Bergeron. “He skates well, he made some great plays, we just need to keep talking and finding each other more and more on the ice.”

Given the overall scope of Bjork’s performance in camp, his steady presence on a line with Bergeron and Marchand during the preseason and his speedy skill set, the rookie is stating a strong case that he’s ready for NHL prime time. It would be a major training camp shocker to this humble hockey writer if Bjork is anywhere other than in the Bruins lineup when they drop the puck against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 5.  

“Yes, it does [look like Bjork is NHL ready]. The competition will stiffen for him and we’ll keep evaluating that. Still, he’s got skill, speed, and courage. He gets to the dirty areas. He’s hard to play against [and gives] second effort on pucks,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It’s not one-and-done with him. And for a young kid, that’s special, to be able to hang in and there and battle for those turnovers. That’s usually the part of the game they have to continue to grind on them.

“But he’s got a lot of that. Maybe that’s Bergy and March’s influence, I’d like to think they have some of that, because that’s their game. Marchy never quits. Bergy never quits. They’re going to be a hard line to play against if they are that dogged on the puck every shift.”

There are still two preseason games remaining before the real thing, so it makes little sense for the Bruins to pronounce Bjork ready for NHL duty until the time comes. Bjork’s combination of blazing skating speed, decision-making and confident swagger on the ice have pushed him to the top of Boston’s prospect list when it comes to being closest to play in the NHL. All were on display in his 12:48 of ice time with a goal and a plus-1 rating to go along with two shots on net, a hit and a takeaway while playing the fast, aggressive hockey that Boston prefers these days.

Bjork could have even had a second goal after he intercepted an Erik Gustafsson outlet pass, but missed the net high with a shot in close while going for his second goal of the game. All in all, it was another hurdle cleared by a talented Notre Dame standout that certainly feels like he’s destined to make the opening day roster, and equally ordained to start in a top-6 right wing role with arguably the best duo in the entire NHL.

It will be interesting to see just how good Bjork can be on a daily basis at the NHL level, and if he can get into becoming the 20 goals/50 points range player that should be in his future.  

Now it’s up simply up to Bjork to finish up strong in the preseason when he’s paired with Bergeron and Marchand, and continue on the straight-ahead path toward cracking the Bruins roster for years to come. It would appear he’s poised to “pop” in training camp just as Brandon Carlo did a year ago, and stand as one of those talented youngsters ready to help bridge the gap between talented rookies and established core veterans.

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