Mayers says NHL, NHLPA are close, remains optimistic

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Mayers says NHL, NHLPA are close, remains optimistic

Jamal Mayers sat in on all of those ownerplayer meetings last week in New York City. And while things broke off in an ugly way last week, the Blackhawks forward says there isnt much separating the two sides.

Being involved in those meetings, the reality is we are that close, Mayers said on Monday. My hope is when the dust settles and cooler heads prevail theres enough owners quite frankly itll have to come from them to put pressure on (commissioner Gary Bettman) and say, Are we going to lose a season over how close we are? And for those who suggest, Well, why dont players move more? Theyre not giving credit for how far weve already moved at all. The reality is, the deal is right there to be made.

We have to figure out what to do with the transition rules, going from old system to new system, the cap numbers going to change, allowing teams to perhaps opportunity to have one player amnesty, Mayers said. There are some things to work out from there. But I just worked out in general terms how we are that close.

Mayers said the two sides agreed in principal to transition payments (aka make whole), which executive director Donald Fehr said prior to Thursday nights blowup. The league, however, said the economics agreement was contingent to the NHLPA accepting three other items: CBA length, player contract limits and some transition items.

It wasnt presented to us for the transition paymentmake whole, that theyre tied together to everything else. That was never, ever said in any of the meetings, Mayers said. So that comes as a surprise.

The league wants a 10-year CBA (with an opt out after eight). The NHLPAs latest proposal moved to eight years. Owners are adamant about a five-year contract limit seven years for a player re-signing with his current team to the point where deputy commissioner Bill Daly called it the hill we will die on. Players offered eight years max.

So why are players so against that five-year maximum? Mayers used the Pittsburgh Penguins as an example:

If you were to sign a guy like Sidney Crosby to a five-year deal (or at least eight year deal like were proposing), you end up paying Crosby 12 million a year, whatever 20 percent of the cap is, for the entire length of the contract. Flat line. Because youre not able to change the numbers at all and have any kind of variance because hes going to get his security within those five years. Whats Evgeni Malkin going to get? Hes going to get 12 million. What about (Marc-Andre) Fleury coming up? (Kris) Letang? Youre not going to be able to keep the team together. Youre also going to crush the middle class and lower-tier players. All that moneys going to get eaten up by those guys.

Theres a reason why Sidney took a little less and this contracts designed the way it is because he wants to play on a good team. Youd think that owners would want something similar, Mayers said. I believe theyd want it like that because it allows them to keep their players. But most importantly it crushes the middle-class player.

Mayers said the NHLPA also proposed a solution to the back-diving player contracts, including those signed this past summer.

Any contract seven years or greater, if the player was fit to play but retired anyway, you would take the dollars remaining, or the cap hit number, and penalize the team and charge them a cap hit for trying to take advantage to finding a loophole, he said. To me, if you have that in place, and you have a variance in our new system where we said eight-year contract length, you wont have those issues with back-diving contracts. So what do they care on how the moneys allocated? Its like a salary cap. You can only spend X, thats it.

Despite the ugly end to last week, the two sides did correspond this weekend. Daly told the Associated Press that the sides are trying to set up something for this week, but nothing finalized yet.

Obviously Im still optimistic, Mayers said about a season. Thats the reason why were here skating and trying to get ready.

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

By the bye: Blackhawks keep rolling following break

When you're on a roll, you hate disrupting it for anything.

The Blackhawks probably felt that in some respect heading into the new NHL-mandated bye week on Feb. 12, but the need for rest usurped any worry on that front. Still, when the Blackhawks reconvened last Friday, the question remained if they could pick up where they left off on that pre-bye, five-game winning streak.

As coach Joel Quenneville said of the unusual break, "we talked about it going into it: you don't know how you're going to come out of it."

Apparently it hasn't been a problem.

The Blackhawks have won two of their first three out of the bye, including their 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.

Coming out of this break hasn't been easy for a lot of teams. The Blackhawks, like 11 other teams up to this point, lost their first game out of it. But in that loss to Edmonton, the Blackhawks played well. That continued on Sunday in Buffalo and on Tuesday in Minnesota. Now back in a rhythm schedule-wise, the Blackhawks are hitting their stride performance-wise.

"I thought we played a good game against Edmonton but we still felt there'd be some good will down the road. I thought we continued on with these next two on the road, probably played the same way going into it. So it's been a good stretch for us, and much better than we were at the beginning of the year," Quenneville said. "I like the improvement in our game."

A big part of the Blackhawks' success is finding their four-line rotation.

Jonathan Toews was joined by Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik early in the Ice Show trip, the three were given time to mesh and it's paying productive dividends. The second line is always a threat. Their third and fourth lines are a great combination of defense, skill and youth.

As the lines have started rolling, so have the Blackhawks. Each line had someone score against Buffalo. The top line thrived vs. the Wild. 

"I think all year we kind of expected the offense, coming from Arty's [Artem Anisimov's] line and maybe my line, but what's making us a really good team is our third and fourth line going out there and just battling every shift, just working, giving other teams no time, no chance to make plays with the puck," Toews said. "I think when you can rotate four lines like that, everyone starts to pick up their pace and their speed and then you just rotate in and it doesn't matter who scores on a given night. We're getting contributions from all over the place and it makes you a dangerous team and a tough team to beat."

Instead of taking steam out of the Blackhawks' sails, the bye appears to have re-energized them.

"Yeah it was good for our team," Ryan Hartman said. "We had a few guys who didn't get [rest during] the all-star break. They were still playing, and it was nice for those guys to get away from the rink and kind of get in the sun and take your mind of hockey for a bit, refresh the brain and body. I think we all needed those couple days of rest. As it's looked the last couple of games we've looked fresh and we've been bringing it almost a full 60. I wouldn't say we're quite playing a full 60 but we're really close and that was crucial for us."

Playing a full 60 was one of the Blackhawks' biggest problems earlier this season. Much like the four-line rotation, it's showing up at the right time. The Blackhawks have a great opportunity this week to get closer to the Wild, who started their break on Wednesday.

The issues that plagued the Blackhawks earlier this season are starting to dissipate. They weren't sure how they were going to come out of this break. So far, they've followed rest and relaxation with a rejuvenated game. 

"We're just rolling four lines now. Every line can score and every line's playing the best hockey," Panik said. "That's helped us."

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win in Minnesota

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win in Minnesota

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White Sox Talk Podcast: 1-on-1 with executive vice president Ken Williams

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Quick Hits: Blackhawks respond the right way in win over Wild

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