Talks have young NHLers hopeful

Capitals defenceman Karl Alzner. (BRUCE BENNETT/Getty Images/AFP file photo)

Capitals defenceman Karl Alzner. (BRUCE BENNETT/Getty Images/AFP file photo)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:19 PM ET

CALGARY - Cautiously optimistic.

And very light on the optimistic when it comes to starting the NHL season on time.

That's the feeling of some of the hockey players who are regularly skating together in Calgary after the latest round of negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

"There's still a ton to get done, but if you would have asked me two days ago, I would have felt we were never going to start the season, but after one negotiation, one more proposal, people are excited at the possibility of it going again," Washington Capitals defenceman Karl Alzner said before hitting the ice at Westside Recreation Centre.

"That's all we care about. We just want to play hockey."

The CBA between the NHL and its players expires Sept. 15, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has not wavered from the league's stance there will be a lockout without a new deal in place.

Both sides met again for roughly 90 minutes Wednesday in New York, a day after the league offered a six-year proposal which offered the players 46% of the Hockey Related Revenue. The first offer from the NHL was 43%.

The players' association is expected to return to the bargaining table with a counter-offer as early as Thursday.

The biggest positive is both sides continue to negotiate.

"At least they're chatting instead of looking across the table and giving the mad-dog stares," said Alzner, who played for the WHL Hitmen and lives in Calgary during the off-season.

"It's positive to see talking going on. We had such a stalemate for so long, both sides holding firm, and we know what happened last time this went on. You stay so firm that you lose an entire season.

"It's showing at least the owners are interested in keeping the talks going and wanting to do something.

"There are so many other things that are going on, most people don't even know the fine details.

"We're lucky we have such a smart guy and efficient guy (Don Fehr) running our ship, so I'm sure he'll break it down and come back with something else."

The over-riding feeling is the league won't shut down for a whole season, as was the case when the previous CBA expired in 2004.

However, not many are banking on the league and players coming to an agreement to start the season Oct. 11, as scheduled.

"I hope so, but I don't know if I believe it will start on time," said Flames centre Mikael Backlund. "I hope they'll get something done -- I want to play, just like everybody else -- but we need a fair deal.

"Most of the guys don't believe it's going to start on time. Everybody hopes for it, everybody wants to play, but it's not the case right now.

"It doesn't look bright."

Added Alzner: "I'm not the guy to tell, but I don't think we're going to miss an entire year.

"It sounded like we were going to be waiting for a couple of months, but we'll see what we come back with, and that will give more of a chance to hammer out a deal.

"I want to give people a date we'll start playing."

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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