NHL lockout: League offer might trigger progress

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There is, finally, movement in the NHL lockout.

Whether it represents actual progress toward a new collective bargaining agreement remains to be seen.

For two weeks, officials of the league and the NHL Players' Association had exchanged little more than long-distance dirty looks, and the chances of salvaging even an abbreviated season seemed to shrink by the hour.

But Thursday, the NHL -- whose previous offer was of the take-it-or-leave-it variety -- submitted what deputy commissioner Bill Daly described as a "new, comprehensive" proposal to the union.

The NHLPA took it seriously enough to conduct a conference call with its members Friday, offering its impressions of a package that reportedly covers about 300 pages.

There was little public reaction from players in the wake of that call, and much of what was said privately was guarded, perhaps because the finer points of the proposal still were being digested.

The players and league are expected to conduct a conference call today to discuss the offer and clarify any issues the NHLPA might have about it. A face-to-face bargaining session could be finalized then, with one Sunday in New York a possibility.

The league's proposal calls for a 10-year CBA, with an opt-out clause after eight. Some of its more significant features include:

• Contracts would be limited to six years, up from five in the NHL's previous offer. Players could be re-signed for up to seven years.

• Salaries would be allow to vary 10 percent from year to year, up from 5 percent in the previous offer.

• Teams would be allowed to buy out one contract before the 2013-14 season without having that money count against its cap ceiling. It would, however, count against the players' share of hockey-related revenue.

• Re-entry waivers would be eliminated.

• A weighted lottery that would give all non-playoff teams a chance to end up with the No. 1 choice in the draft would be introduced.

• The cap ceiling for 2012-13 would effectively be $70.2 million, but would drop to $60 million for the following season.

• Teams would be allowed to trade (or hold onto) salaries and/or cap space, within specified limits.

• The start of free agency would be pushed back from July 1 to July 10.

• Unrestricted free-agency guidelines, salary arbitration and entry-level rules would be unchanged from the CBA that expired Sept. 15.

• Salaries above a designated level paid to players with NHL contracts who are working in another pro league would count against his NHL club's cap ceiling.

• There would be a period before signings are permitted in which unrestricted free agents could be interviewed by teams interested in them. Previously, any such contact was viewed as tampering.

• The Christmas break would be extended to include Dec. 26, as well as Dec. 24-25.

• The rule limiting teams to four conventional recalls after the trade deadline would be adjusted.

Before being briefed on the NHL's proposal, several Penguins who participated in a player-organized workout at Southpointe said they had not been anticipating an offer from the league.

"At this point, I think you'd be an idiot to try to predict or expect anything," defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

Forward Craig Adams, who is the Penguins' player representative, seemed underwhelmed by what little he'd heard of the offer, like the one-year increase in maximum contract lengths and the rise in year-to-year salary variances.

Still, he saw the league putting a fresh proposal on the table as a plus.

"I wouldn't say [those changes are] 'significant,' " he said. "I guess that would strike me as the smallest possible moves you could make in those departments.

"But they're moves in our direction, and that's not to be discounted or taken lightly."

If both sides move far enough and do it within a couple of weeks, there might still be NHL hockey this winter. The league reportedly has targeted Jan. 19 as the latest possible starting date for a 48-game season.

"We've waited this long," Orpik said. "We might as well stay patient here the next couple of weeks and see what happens. Something has to happen, for good or bad, in the next couple of weeks."

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.


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