Orpik asks '50 percent of what?' as NHL proposal sparks mix of optimism, frustration

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Brooks Orpik knows how to make concessions. After all, the former Boston College player is keeping a stiff upper lip while skating with other pro players at rival Boston University during the NHL lockout.

The Penguins defenseman draws the line, though, at some of what he read Wednesday when the league somewhat surprisingly posted online a full account of its latest collective bargaining agreement proposal to the NHL Players' Association.

"It doesn't look that great to me," Orpik said.

The offer addressed the major stumbling point of core economic issues by suggesting a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues between the league and the players union in a CBA that would replace one that paid the players 57 percent. The league had opened at 43 percent and come up to 47 percent before the lockout started Sept. 15. The NHLPA had offered a graduating scale between 54 percent and 52 percent.

Orpik sees the devil in the details.

"The second bullet point: [hockey-related revenue] is the same as last year, but it's still subject to interpretation," Orpik said. "So 50 percent of what?"

Questions such as the definition of hockey-related revenue -- things such as ticket sales, TV contracts, etc. -- and a tug-of-war over all sorts of contractual and other issues will need to be settled, and quickly, under the NHL's deadline of late next week to get the season started by Nov. 2 and fit in a full 82 games per team.

But there is optimism that the NHL's offer opened a door.

"Hearing about a proposal is a good sign," Penguins winger Chris Kunitz said. "To get it done and get 82 games would be great, but to get the right terms of the deal is important."

The NHLPA has not responded formally to the proposal or made a counter offer, but the sides are scheduled to meet today in Toronto.

"Our guys are analyzing it," Kunitz said. "They're going through the numbers."

Orpik said he wants to hold on to optimism, but events of the past couple of days have left him wondering about the NHL's motives.

Even the decision to go public with the offer -- a day after commissioner Gary Bettman said he didn't think it was productive to reveal a lot of details -- intrigued Orpik because it might have blunted the wave of optimism following the initial announcement.

"I got a ton of text messages [Tuesday] from family and friends," Orpik said. "I think that might have been the goal of the league -- to generate that excitement and make it seem like everything will be done soon.

"They said, 'Oh, it's a 50-50 split across the board. We know it's important to honor players' contracts.' But they didn't say how those contracts would be honored. I think that's why they generated excitement. People didn't care [about the details]. Everything sounded great.

"I was shocked when they put the details out there."

Kunitz also heard from people asking if, indeed, things were working out and the season would begin Nov. 2.

Orpik sees a lot of things in the proposal that need to be addressed. For example, he and Kunitz are concerned about language in the proposal that will "make whole" any shortfalls while making the transition to 50 percent with a deferred compensation benefit.

"Players paying players instead of owners paying players," Kunitz said.

Orpik also wants to see the NHL move in the players' direction in contract rights and rules. Among other things, the league is calling for a five-year cap on contracts, two-year rather than three-year entry-level contracts, and unrestricted free agency pushed back until a player is 28 or has spent eight seasons in the league.

"It seems like across the board, not only are we conceding on the percent, but we're also conceding on some of the things we got in the last contract," Orpik said.

That echoes the sentiment in a letter obtained by Canadian network TSN from NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr to players.

Fehr wrote that the NHL's offer "while not quite as Draconian as their previous proposals, still represents enormous reductions in player salaries and individual contracting rights. ... At the 5 percent industry growth rate the owners predict, the salary reduction over six years exceeds $1.6 billion.

"What do the owners offer in return?"

And what was their plan from the outset?

"I think you catch yourself trying to think about what they had in mind," Orpik said. "Why couldn't they have given that [offer] to us in August? "They know they were going to have to minimally get to those numbers.

"Did they want to put pressure on players, or were they getting pressure from somewhere?

"I guess the next 48 hours is when you see if it was to sway public opinion or trying to find some reasonable ground and start real negotiations to be able to start [playing] Nov. 2."

NOTE -- Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had an empty-net goal and an assist for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in a 3-1 win against Atlant in the Kontinental Hockey League.

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For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly


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