FRANKLIN — Following another informal workout at A-Game Sportsplex, roughly 20 miles and exactly one county removed from their regular training facility, Nashville Predators players were more hopeful than optimistic Tuesday morning.
They and their peers throughout the National Hockey League have been locked out for more than a month. Their entire training camp and preseason was wiped away as was the first two weeks of the regular season. Developments in recent weeks were few and — at best — minimal.
“We’ll get updates and try to stay informed,” center Mike Fisher said. “We try to talk when we come here and see what’s going on. It doesn’t look like anything shortly will get done with the stance owners have taken, which is unfortunate.
“Things could change quick.”
How right he was.
A short time later, a morning meeting between the highest-ranking officials of both the NHL and the NHL Players Association ended with the revelation of a new offer, one that spurred hope throughout North America for a resolution to the league’s second work stoppage in less than a decade, possibly within a week.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly presented union leadership with a proposition that they consider a final attempt to make an agreement in time to play an entire 82-game schedule. Bettman said that a revised schedule could be implemented with games beginning Nov. 2. In that plan, the lost games would be made up with an average of an additional contest per team every five weeks.
“We have about nine or 10 days to get this all put to bed, signed, sealed and delivered, in order for this offer to be effective and for us to move forward,” Bettman said. “We hope that this effort that we've undertaken [Tuesday] would be successful because we know how difficult this all has been for everybody associated with the game, particularly our fans.”
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said he and other officials planned to review the offer and present it to his organization’s executive board and negotiating committee in an afternoon conference call. The players would determine at that time whether they felt the offer provided a basis for substantive talks.
"Our hope is that after we review this that there will be a feeling on the players' side that this is a proposal from which we can negotiate and try and reach a conclusion," Fehr said.
The league’s latest proposal includes an even 50-50 split of all hockey related revenue (HRR). The distribution of those funds between the parties has been one of the primary issues in the lockout, which owners implemented Sept. 15, immediately upon expiration of the last collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
Under the last CBA, 57 percent of HRR went to player salaries. Initial offers from the league included a reversal of that distribution with 57 percent to the owners and 43 percent to the players.
The NHLPA has proposed a temporary reduction in their share. Rather than go directly to the owners, the difference would help stock a revenue-sharing fund to help franchises in smaller and/or non-traditional markets.
As it stands right now, Nashville’s first five games have been canceled. The first remaining contest on the schedule is Oct. 25 at home against Phoenix. That and two others must be moved if the revised 82-game schedule is implemented.
The Predators have a game scheduled Nov. 2 at Chicago and a stretch of four home games in eight days beginning Nov. 8 against Calgary.
“If you look at what our ability would be to schedule 82 games and you work back from Nov. 2, if we didn't do it now, if we didn't put an effort on the table that we thought was fair and could get us playing hockey, if we didn't do it now, then it probably wasn't going to happen for a while,” Bettman said. “Because, again, it's done in the spirit of getting a full season in.”
A full schedule, even a condensed one, is better than nothing, which was exactly the result of the last lockout. That one forced the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season.
“Obviously, you want to be playing but that’s not the case now,” Fisher said. “We have to be patient. Hopefully, something will get done here soon and we’ll be back at it.”