SUN Hockey Pool

It's up to NHL to give a little

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

TORONTO -- A deal doesn't have to happen today.

But if the two sides in the NHL's labour dispute can at least reach some common ground in their negotiating session at the league's Air Canada Centre offices, perhaps there's some hope the season can be saved.

There have been no talks toward reaching a new collective bargaining agreement since the two sides last met Sept. 9, and there's no belief the NHL and the Players' Association will come to an agreement today just because there's an offer on the table.

But it's up to the NHL's bargaining team to decide if it's going to walk away or get involved in negotiations to save the season. If there's no give and take today, then it's obvious the league remains determined to get a salary cap.

"If the league doesn't negotiate on the deal they're going to be offered (today), then you've got to wonder if they want a season," a league source told the Sun yesterday. "This is an offer they need to look at and take seriously."

The players aren't going to break on the issue of not accepting a salary cap, but according to sources, they're willing to bend on some issues -- arbitration, qualifying offers and the entry-level system -- which concern the owners.

Here's what their proposal could include:

- As reported by the Sun last week, the offer will feature a more realistic luxury tax than the one tabled in September. Teams could be taxed at a rate of 75 cents for every dollar over $40 million. There's some discussion those taxes could have different thresholds at $50 and $60 million with levels that are much higher.

- There will be a one-time across the board 8-10% pay cut to all existing contracts.

- A change to the arbitration system, which could make it more like the baseball model. Both sides would indicate the amount they covet from the arbitrator, who would then have to choose one or the other. There's also talk the players will offer to allow the owners to take them to arbitration in certain circumstances. That would cut down on the number of players who sit out of camp waiting for a deal.

- The entry-level system maximum will drop from $1.2 million to about $850,000 and there could also be a change in the way bonuses are structured. They've gotten out of control under the current system.

- Qualifying offers could also be changed. At the moment, players making less than the league minimum have to be offered a 10% raise when their contract expires. There's talk the players could change qualifying offers to 80%, but it may be just speculation.

Would any or all of this solve the lockout?

"From what I've heard, this offer is a step in the right direction," said the Senators' Mike Fisher, who will return to Peterborough from Switzerland on Sunday. "We wouldn't be wasting anybody's time making an offer if we didn't feel it could help.

FAIR DEAL

"Everybody wants to get back to playing hockey. That's why we're trying to negotiate a deal that is fair for both sides. We've been waiting for an offer from them and that's why we've decided to go back at them again."

Whether there's going to be a season or not depends on the owners' resolve. If NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is determined to get a salary cap at any cost, then all bets are off and the season is dead.

It should be noted this is the third time since discussions started 14 months ago that the players are bringing an offer to the table. The league brought forward six concepts on July 21 that the union flatly rejected. Basically, it's been a stalemate.

There will be no solution today, but here's hoping the two sides engage in discussions which will help them find common ground.

"We all want the hockey season to be saved," said Chicago's Matthew Barnaby. "If they don't accept this offer, at least I hope they take a look at it and say this is something we can work with."


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