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NHL makes "final offer'

Published Jan. 11, 1995|Updated Oct. 3, 2005

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did not push the detonator button on the 1994-95 season, despite the failure to reach a bargaining agreement with the players by the noon Tuesday deadline.

Whether Bettman will blow up the season today depends upon the players, who were given Tuesday night what Boston Bruins general manager Harry Sinden called the owners' "final, final, final, final, final offer."

Tuesday began with the completion of a 25-hour negotiating session between Bettman and union boss Bob Goodenow in New York. The session, which started at 11 a.m. Monday and ended at the noon deadline Tuesday with only a short break for dinner, produced a proposal that meshed the players' "final" offer and the owners' "final" offer.

"We thought we had a deal," said Lightning center Brian Bradley, who participated in a conference call of players around 1 p.m. Tuesday. "We thought it not only was our best offer, but Gary's best offer."

Bettman presented the compromise proposal to the NHL Board of Governors during a 2{-hour conference call characterized by those who participated as "emotional" and "heated." With a straw poll, the proposal was rejected 14-12.

After getting feedback from every club via faxes, Bettman put together a new management "final" proposal that was "accepted by the overwhelming majority," according to Lightning governor David LeFevre.

"This truly is our absolute, final proposal," LeFevre added. "Not our semifinal proposal."

LeFevre said Bettman and Goodenow reviewed 13 differences between the two sides' most recent offers and Goodenow agreed that eight would remain as they were in the owners' final offer. Five issues were renegotiated.

The key issue is the age for unrestricted free agency for veterans, the only significant gain for the players in negotiations where the players have given in to many concessions demanded by the owners to curb salary escalation.

Originally, the players proposed and age of 30 and the owners 32. In the compromise proposal, the age was 32 for the first year (this season) and 31 for the remaining five years of the deal.

The owners have followed by offering 32 for the first three years and 31 for the last three years. With the right of the owners to reopen negotiations after the third year, it is possible that the players never will realize free agency at 31.

"That's where the deal-break is," Bradley said. "But I'm optimistic we'll be playing hockey. We are too close not to get a deal done."

LeFevre said the other major differences that appeared settled in the tentative agreement were a union "wish list."

Regarding salary arbitration, the players wanted one "walk-away" (if a team lost in arbitration, the team would have the right not to honor one award of $701,000 or more per year). The owners proposed two walk-aways if players were awarded $500,000 or more. The two sides compromised on three walk-aways over two years for awards of $550,000 or more.

Regarding the entry-level salary cap, the players wanted the cap at $900,000 for the first year for all rounds. The owners wanted it at $825,000, with lesser amounts for the second round ($450,000) and third through ninth rounds ($275,000). The compromise appears to be at $850,000 for all rounds.

The players wanted the draft age to remain 18. The owners wanted it at 20. The sides agreed to have it at 19, with 18-year-old players able to declare themselves eligible.

There also was agreement that both sides should be able to reopen negotiations after the third season. The owners had proposed that only they be given that right.

"We are hopeful for acceptance from the players," LeFevre said. "We have taken a lot of steps forward."

Bettman suspended the deadline indefinitely at noon Tuesday, when it appeared a deal could be reached. In a statement read Tuesday night by spokesman Arthur Pincus, the NHL said: "A new proposal had been presented to the players association and the season would be canceled if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached promptly."

Nobody knows what "promptly" means.

But Lightning general manager Phil Esposito said it is likely the start date for the season, if an agreement is reached, will have to be pushed back "a few days" from the original Jan.

16 date.

LeFevre said that if a deal is reached there are also a lot of "transitional" issues that have to be settled.

Lightning coach Terry Crisp was hopeful he would have been able to hold practice Tuesday at the ThunderDome. But the only member of the Lightning organization who used that ice Tuesday was LeFevre.

"I'm going skating," he said after the Lightning's press conference Tuesday. "Hopefully in the morning we will get some good news."

Lightning player rep Danton Cole said the union's negotiating committee would review the proposal in the morning. "I'm not sure if we will all vote on it or not," he said. "But I'm probably more optimistic that I was two days ago. Hopefully, the owners will come back to us with something we can all live with."

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