Oilers ready to play

Marty Reasoner (Bruce Bennett Studios)

Marty Reasoner (Bruce Bennett Studios)

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

"I had a talk with Bob and Gary and I said I'm pretty close, so we can start playing." After months without meaningful negotiations between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow, Marty Reasoner of the Edmonton Oilers provided the quip of the day after it was announced yesterday the two sides actually intend to sit down and talk next Thursday.

Reasoner, who is being paid during the lockout because he was injured last season, will see the cheques stop Dec. 15 when he's declared medically fit to play.

After 13 months on the shelf, the timing of the announcement that a new proposal by the NHLPA is forthcoming couldn't be better for Reasoner, who is ready to get back at it.

SHOWS WILLINGNESS

He's not alone.

"The first I've heard is in the last five minutes," said Reasoner, days from being deemed recovered from two surgeries to repair damaged knee cartilage.

"Obviously, I hope it's a step in the right direction that gets both sides to the bargaining table and a fair agreement. I think it shows the NHLPA is willing to negotiate and we're making that step to start that process."

Willingness to negotiate does not make an agreement - given the diametrically opposing positions the sides are taking about a salary cap -- but there was guarded optimism at Rexall Place at word the NHLPA has taken the initiative to re-open talks.

"I'm hoping the season gets going, just for the players' sake and the fans' sake," said Raffi Torres, who caused a stir within the union ranks when he inked an AHL deal to play with the Road Runners Nov. 1.

"It's definitely good news. It's really good news. Hopefully, things get resolved sooner than later."

Torres and Jarret Stoll, assigned to the Road Runners as a player on an entry-level NHL contract, would have started the season as Oilers had Bettman not called the lockout.

"I think it's great," Stoll said. "For everybody who loves hockey and is involved in the game, it's great news. It's a step forward."

Tough guy Rocky Thompson, who inflamed some members of the NHLPA by saying he'd be willing to work as a replacement player next season if a new agreement can't be reached, says a resumption of talks is long overdue.

"I think it's awesome they're going to try to make an offer and open up negotiations again," Thompson said. "I'm just happy the PA has said, 'Let's do this. Let's try it.'

"It's quite obvious Bettman wasn't going to. It'll be interesting to see what the PA has to offer. I think it shows they're in the right frame of mind and that we want to play hockey."

At the very least, a new proposal will put the ball in Bettman's court with time running out to salvage the season.

Thompson hopes there's more to it than that.

"It's got to be a reasonable offer," Thompson said. "Everybody is against the PA right now. The owners, the fans. They have to put forth something substantial.

"If they do, and Bettman says it's still unreasonable when everybody else sees it to be reasonable, the pressure will be on him."

That's a sentiment that was repeated more than once as the Road Runners filed off the ice after practice.

"Hopefully, there's some serious talks," Stoll said. "Not just meeting and kind of bickering back and forth for 10 or 15 minutes.

"Hopefully, they get some serious conversation and get down to working it out.

"Both sides know what's best for hockey and that's to have at least half a season here ... I just hope it's a serious meeting this time, not like what it's been like before."

Until the substance of the NHLPA's offer is made public, it's anyone's guess if the sides have any chance of inching closer to an agreement.

TOUGH TO DEAL PUBLICLY

"It's tough to make a deal when they're just bickering with each other in the media," said goaltender Tyler Moss.

"They ought to try to hammer out a deal to bring hockey back for everybody. I feel for the fans, for everybody who's lost jobs because of this. A lot of people have suffered."

Maybe, just maybe, there's an end in sight.

"There's days when you hold out the hope we will start," said Reasoner. "There's other days when you say there isn't a chance in the world.

"It all reflects what you hear and what you see.

"I think you can always hold that hope. This is a step in the right direction and, hopefully, it'll get the ball rolling."


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