SUN Hockey Pool

Bombshells away!

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

The were supposed to be making a public-relations move, not dropping a bombshell.

But the NHL Players' Association sent shock waves through the Air Canada Centre yesterday when it offered to slash all existing contracts by 24% if it means saving the season.

While the $528-million offer doesn't address the NHL's fundamental problems, it's enough of a rollback to show the union is serious about reaching a compromise.

"Throughout the whole time we've been locked out they've been questioning our willingness to negotiate," said Steve Staios, one of the Edmonton Oilers' five player reps. "Well, this is obviously a strong indication of our willingness to get back playing.

"I don't know how anyone in their right mind can say that this isn't significant. We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that we're giving back."

Fellow player rep Jason Smith believes the union's latest proposal should be enough, if not to save the season, then to open negotiations that will.

"From my standpoint and the players' standpoint, this should be enough to get the deal done," said Smith.

"I would hope that it is. When you look at the effort that we've made ... we as players are giving $7.4 million back to the Oilers this year, that's pretty significant. We've gone out on a limb to make this proposal and we're hoping for a return from them."

LOWERS ARBITRATION

It not only cuts the payrolls, it lowers arbitration comparables 24% and gives owners and GMs another chance to learn from their mistakes and get their houses in order.

"It's a number that is going to close a gap and address a lot of the financial concerns the league has been talking about," said Staios. "It's a lot of money, enormous amounts of money."

While impressed with the rollback, Gary Bettman was quick to point out it's still a one-time toll, whether it's 10% or 24, that doesn't address a broken marketplace.

"I acknowledge that it's very significant," said the commissioner. "It's a recognition by the Union of our economic condition, but it is a one-time element. We have said consistently that the focus must be on the overall systemic issues and long-term health of the game."

Staios takes exception to the Band-Aid accusation.

"If you're talking just about the salary rollback, that's true, you have a case," he said. "But we've also offered a luxury tax, revenue sharing, a cap on entry-level players and better arbitration for the owners. It all adds up to over $600 million over three years.

"If all we were offering was the rollback then yes, it's just a quick fix, but we've tried to address the system.

"They were saying salaries were too close to revenues, OK, here's 24% back. And not only 24% back, but a new system where you can control spending."

Bettman and his people will take a few days to digest the binder full of information and make a counter-offer on Tuesday. It's expected that offer will contain a cap, to which the players are adamantly opposed.

"The league has said we've been posturing and aren't willing to negotiate, but they haven't moved off their hard cap stance from day one," said Smith. "We're not willing to go in that direction. But we're going to wait for the reaction from the league and hope it's good."

WAITING GAME

From now until Tuesday, all everyone can do is sit and hold their breath while the NHL and NHLPA stare at each other like American and Soviet ships off the coast of Cuba.

"I'm not sure what to expect from the counter-offer, but I hope it's at least something that we can negotiate off of, not just a drop-dead hard cap issue," said Staios.

"We're hoping this is the system and the proposal that can work because I can't see where we can go from here."


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