NHL counters players' offer, sides likely to meet Wednesday

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NHL counters players' offer, sides likely to meet Wednesday

NEW YORK -- The proposals are flying back and forth between the NHL and the players' association. Whether significant progress is being made in the process still isn't all that clear.

The league made a counteroffer on Tuesday night in response to one it received from the players on Monday and now the NHL is waiting for another answer.

A full day of smaller group meetings wrapped up with a full bargaining session that lasted about 30 minutes Tuesday night. The union took the league's latest offer back to its headquarters to begin reviewing it.

"They did make a comprehensive response to what we gave them yesterday," executive director Donald Fehr said. "We asked a couple of questions, and now what we have to do is go through the document, try to make some sense out of it, compare it and see what the appropriate thing is to do next."

Fehr said he will get back in touch with the NHL on Wednesday morning, and added he anticipates the sides will get back together during the day.

"I am reasonably certain of it," Fehr said.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman declined to provide details of the league's latest offer, but said it addressed specific areas the union requested.

"There were certain things that the players' association asked for that we agreed to, there were some things that we moved in their direction, and there were other things that we said no," he said. "That's part of the process."

But it's a process that has limited time to be completed. Bettman said Monday the NHL has told the union a deal needs to be in place by Jan. 11 so a 48-game season can begin eight days later.

It is unclear how many issues still need to be resolved and how far apart the sides are in key areas.

"Nobody is counting," Bettman said. "We're not trying to keep score, we're trying to get an agreement."

Both sides agreed that it is a positive sign they are getting into a rhythm of talking and meeting and exchanging ideas on a regular basis.

"It is better to be meeting than not. I am not saying anything more about it," Fehr said.

The only way to bridge the gaps to a deal that would save the season is to keep working at it together.

"The fact that we're involved in a continuous process is something that I am glad to see, but we're clearly not done yet," Bettman said. "It's up to the players' association to come back to us now in response to what they have been given this evening."

Small groups from each side met and conferred by conference calls all afternoon about provisions of a potential collective bargaining agreement. A full meeting of the negotiating teams didn't begin until 9 p.m. and wrapped up relatively quickly after the NHL presented its counterproposal.

The afternoon sessions were more for informational purposes.

"Those were more technical," Bettman said. "There were a variety of issues where there weren't what I would call negotiations. It was understanding what each side was looking for, explaining what the issues were that were being discussed just to make sure there was a common understanding."

There is a little less than two weeks left to reach an agreement and hold one week of training camp before starting the season. All games through Jan. 14 have been canceled, claiming more than 50 percent of the original schedule.

The NHL is the only North American professional sports league to cancel a season because of a labor dispute, losing the 2004-05 campaign to a lockout. A 48-game season was played in 1995 after a lockout stretched into January.

The NHL was supposed to be celebrating its annual outdoor Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday -- the 108th day of the lockout -- at Michigan Stadium. But that game was canceled long ago along with the All-Star game.

When the sides met Monday, for the first time since Dec. 13, the union brought a condensed counterproposal in response to the NHL's 288-page contract offer. There were some discussions between the negotiators and some time spent apart in internal meetings.

It is still possible this dispute eventually could be settled in the courts if the sides can't reach a deal on their own.

The NHL filed a class-action suit this month in U.S. District Court in New York in an effort to show its lockout is legal. In a separate move, the league filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, contending bad-faith bargaining by the union.

Those moves were made because the players' association took steps toward potentially declaring a "disclaimer of interest," which would dissolve the union and make it a trade association. That would allow players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NHL.

Union members voted overwhelmingly to give their board the power to file the disclaimer by Wednesday. If that deadline passes, another authorization vote could be held to approve a later filing.

If progress in negotiations is made Wednesday, it seems likely that the union will let its self-imposed deadline pass with a disclaimer declaration.

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Ron Hextall on free agency: Flyers hope to get better but 'not at all costs'

Ron Hextall on free agency: Flyers hope to get better but 'not at all costs'

Cautiously optimistic.

That might be the best way to describe how Ron Hextall feels about free agency, which begins Friday at noon.

The Flyers' general manager is going to be very cautious in who he targets, won’t get caught up in a bidding war and is optimistic that he can find the right top-nine player at a fair price and term.

In perfect salary cap world — one in which the Flyers had oodles of money — they would be tempted by L.A.'s Milan Lucic, St. Louis’ David Backes or Boston’s Loui Eriksson.

Lucic, in many ways, is the kind of Flyer-type player the organization covets. But all three of those players are going to command more salary and term than the Flyers can afford, and Lucic appears headed to Western Canada, anyway.

The Flyers need a scoring winger.

They go into free agency with less than $12 million in salary cap space and still have to put aside close to $5 million for restricted free agent Brayden Schenn and $1 million or so for unrestricted free agent Ryan White (see story), a very valuable and versatile fourth-liner who can move around the lineup.

On top of that, Hextall needs about $2.5 million in reserve on his cap for call-ups.

Which means, without losing a contract of say $4.5 million or so, he has at best $4 million to sign a supporting cast player — not an impact player.

“I’d like to upgrade our top six, but I would certainly upgrade our top nine,” Hextall said. “We’re not going to do something that ties our hands next summer. There’s not going to be any short-term vision that doesn’t play out long term.

“I don’t want to get into a spot here where it costs us a young player and we’re forced into a deal.”

A player such as the Isles’ Kyle Okposo would be nicely suited for the Flyers. He’s going to command more dollars than the Flyers have.

So unless Hextall can move a decent-sized contract, the only way to sign an impact free-agent forward would be to gamble and go the CBA-allowed 10 percent over the cap now and hope to get under by October when the season begins.

A number of clubs, including Minnesota and Detroit, are reportedly interested in Okposo and have far more cap space.

Given the conservative approach Hextall has taken so far as GM, it’s unlikely he would go over the cap now unless he absolutely had a deal in hand to move salary.

He tried to trade at last weekend’s NHL draft in Buffalo and failed.

“We didn’t get close to that,” he said.

As it was, there were only a handful of trades during the draft.

“Every time you turn around, someone is trying to trade a pick and you almost lose touch with what is going on,” Hextall said.

“I think the cap being where it’s at kind of restricts things. Guys aren’t easy to move and a lot of teams don’t want to add too much because they can’t afford it.”

This week saw two significant deals leading into free agency involving P.K. Subban and Shea Weber, plus Taylor Hall and Adam Larsson.

And the top pending free agent, Steven Stamkos, re-signed for eight years in Tampa Bay for $68 million.

Don’t be shocked if Hextall waits a few days to see if the market changes for certain players and price tags to come down.

“July 1 is a funny day,” Hextall said. “Now the cap, it’s somewhat flat. Might be some guys out there who are good buys, but that is not going to happen July 1. It’s usually [July] 5th or 10th or 15th when guys figure out there’s not much out there.”

One thing to keep in mind is the Flyers also recognize that defensive prospect Ivan Provorov and forward prospect Travis Konecny could both make the roster this fall.

Such a scenario would add a total of about $1.79 million onto their cap. Hextall has to figure that into the equation, as well.

One player the Flyers had genuine interest in was Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey, the unsigned prospect originally drafted by Nashville in 2012.

The Preds traded his rights to Buffalo at the draft and have until Aug. 15 to sign him or Vesey becomes a free agent.

A possible “stopgap” player today for the Flyers would be Toronto’s P.A. Parenteau, a 20-goal guy, who even at age 33, would upgrade coach Dave Hakstol’s offense at a reasonable price.

He’s the kind of bargain player Hextall seems more inclined to target if he can’t move salary for a top-six winger.

“We’re committed to getting better,” Hextall said. “Just not at all costs. At a reasonable cost.”

Shayne Gostisbehere presents Folcroft police officer Christopher Dorman with Flyers jersey

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Shayne Gostisbehere presents Folcroft police officer Christopher Dorman with Flyers jersey

Well done, Shayne Gostisbehere.

Precocious on the ice, the Flyers’ 23-year-old defenseman showed his compassion off it on Thursday by making a special visit to the Folcroft Police Department in Delaware County to meet officer Christopher Dorman.

Dorman last Friday was shot in the face, leg and groin — a total of seven times — as he approached a suspected drug deal in Folcroft. Dorman was discharged from Penn Presbyterian Medical Center on Monday after underdoing multiple surgeries.

Gostisbehere had to meet him.

“When you look at role models — people see hockey players and other athletes, but when you see police officers and firefighters, and you see what he’s going through right now and you see how much of a warrior he is and walking around right now, and it only happened a week ago — he’s pretty amazing,” Gostisbehere said, via Flyers public relations. “And I’m pretty sure kids are going to be looking up to him.”

Gostisbehere brought Dorman his own personalized No. 63 Flyers jersey, representing the Folcroft Police Department 63rd District.

“It’s awesome,” Dorman said. “It’s really good to meet someone like him.”

As for his jersey, Dorman said it’s a “perfect fit!” 

Gostisbehere, in his own Flyers jersey, chatted and took pictures with Dorman and others.

He was just happy to help.

“What he’s been through the last week, I’m pretty sure his world’s been flipped upside down,” Gostisbehere said. “But I wanted to take time out to lift his spirits a bit and get him in some orange and black to make him look really good now.”

NHL Notes: Dustin Brown upset to be stripped of Kings' captaincy

NHL Notes: Dustin Brown upset to be stripped of Kings' captaincy

LOS ANGELES -- Dustin Brown doesn't agree with the Los Angeles Kings' decision to strip him of their captaincy after eight seasons and two Stanley Cups.

Brown aired his displeasure in a phone interview Thursday, two weeks after the Kings appointed Anze Kopitar as their new captain.

Brown feels he was a strong leader while the Kings grew from a terrible team to a two-time NHL champion during his tenure. He was also disappointed when news of the Kings' plan leaked out before the club had announced it.

Brown's production has dipped alarmingly in recent years. The power forward hasn't scored 30 points in any of the Kings' last four seasons.

Los Angeles missed the playoffs in 2015 and got eliminated by San Jose in the first round this year (see full story).

Lightning: Stamkos staying for best chance to win
TAMPA, Fla. -- Loyalty, respect and the potential to win for years to come kept Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay.

The Lightning captain said Thursday that he followed his heart in re-signing with the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2008 rather than testing free agency, where he likely would have commanded much more than the $68 million he's due to earn over the next eight seasons.

"Some people when they're in this position chase, obviously, the most money possible," the two-time NHL scoring champion said during a conference call.

"For me, I realize the situation and understood that there could have been some money left out there. But for me, that's not what it's all about. It's about going to an organization that I was comfortable with, and something that gave me the best chance to win in my mind," Stamkos added.

"It was a very tough decision. It truly was. I can't sit here and say this past week has been fun. ... It was pretty stressful, to be honest. I'm glad it's over with" (see full story).

NHL: Carle, Seidenberg among those placed on buyout waivers
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins are cutting ties with expensive defensemen to save some salary-cap space for next season.

According to a person with direct knowledge of the moves, the Lightning placed Matt Carle and the Bruins placed Dennis Seidenberg on buyout waivers. Nashville Predators defenseman Barret Jackman, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Matt Greene, Columbus Blue Jackets forward Jared Boll and Edmonton Oilers forward Lauri Korpikoski were also placed on waivers for the purpose of buying out their contracts.

The person spoke on the condition of anonymity Thursday because the teams didn't announce their decisions.

The person also said Predators forward Eric Nystrom cleared buyout waivers. The Calgary Flames announced Mason Raymond cleared waivers and will be bought out.

The Carolina Hurricanes also announced they bought out the final season of defenseman James Wisniewski's contract, saving $3 million. Despite playing only 47 seconds for Carolina last season before tearing the ACL in his left knee, the 32-year-old said he enjoyed his time in Raleigh and intends to be back playing for someone (see full story).