Mayers says NHL, NHLPA are close, remains optimistic


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.

Welcome back: Return to the booth is Eddie Olczyk's 'best medicine'


Welcome back: Return to the booth is Eddie Olczyk's 'best medicine'

ST. LOUIS – Eddie Olczyk’s morning at Scottrade Center was full of hugs and handshakes, of questions and encouraging words, of smiles and even some tears.

It was a busy morning but a good one for Olczyk, who Wednesday night will do his first hockey broadcast since being diagnosed with colon cancer in August. For the first time in a while, Olczyk felt like himself.

“It feels normal. It feels comfortable,” said Olczyk, who will be alongside Doc Emrick when the Blackhawks face the St. Louis Blues. “I just feel invigorated. Seeing a lot of familiar faces, guys busting chops and a lot of well wishes.”

Olczyk went through his usual game-day routine, including quick chats with Blackhawks players following skate. On Wednesday those talks were that much more special, for both sides.

“Great to see him,” said Ryan Hartman. “When I first saw I was pretty excited to see him back. It’s definitely a presence you know when you’re watching games, that voice you heard growing up. He looks good, looks healthy. He’s in a battle but he looks really good.”

Olczyk will also be in the booth on Thursday night when the Blackhawks host the Edmonton Oilers. Past that, he’ll play it by ear. He’s talked to NBC and Blackhawks president John McDonough, who Olczyk said gave him an “open canvas” in terms of scheduling. If Olczyk feels good on Saturday and the Blackhawks play on Sunday, he’ll try to get back in the booth.

“We think about him every day and we’ve had the pleasure of having him come by a couple of times. Having him be here today for a road game is great to know,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “But he has a tough battle ahead of him and he’s doing everything he can to fight it. We support him every single day.”

Olczyk started chemotherapy treatments in September and he has his good and bad days. Those will continue for a while. So will his fight to completely beat this. But for at least the next two nights Olczyk gets to return to a normal routine, and that’s the perfect panacea for a trying time.

“I’m overwhelmed with everybody,” Olczyk said. “But this is the best medicine I’ve had in a long time.”

Lance Bouma's second chance has meant steady work with Blackhawks


Lance Bouma's second chance has meant steady work with Blackhawks

Lance Bouma took his place at fourth-line left wing as the Blackhawks rolled their forward rushes on Tuesday morning. As the Blackhawks have tinkered with their trios, Bouma, whose final two seasons with the Calgary Flames were filled with uncertainty, has found a consistent role in this lineup.

“Obviously I was brought here for a reason,” Bouma said. “Things didn’t go the way I wanted them to in Calgary. To come here to Chicago and have that role, it’s been a lot of fun so far.”

The Blackhawks knew what they wanted from Bouma and his fellow fourth liners: some physical play, some energy and if there are any scoring opportunities, bonus. It’s a second chance for Bouma, whose contract was terminated by the Flames on June 30.

“I think it’s definitely a motivator knowing that you get in that situation where all of a sudden, ‘OK, I have to almost start over again and I have to prove to a new team that I belong in this league and I can play,’” coach Joel Quenneville said on Tuesday. “There are always circumstances where teams make decisions like that. We’ve been a part of it. And moving forward as a player, you’ve gotta look at it as a fresh opportunity. It’s an opportunity to get back to playing your game.”

After recording 16 goals and 18 assists in the 2014-15 season, Bouma signed a three-year, $6.6 million deal with the Flames. The next two seasons didn’t go as planned as Bouma dealt with injuries, inconsistent play and healthy scratches. So getting that call from the Blackhawks was a huge lift.

“I was just looking forward to a fresh start and something new,” he said. “I just was ready to come into camp and have a great season and it’s been great so far.”

[MORE: Eddie Olczyk expected to return to broadcasting booth this week

Tommy Wingels, who has centered the Blackhawks’ fourth line the last several games – and will again vs. St. Louis on Wednesday – said Bouma looks “refreshed” this season.

“Obviously whether it’s a team doesn’t want to bring you back or it’s a trade or buyout, there’s certainly something that deep down gets you going,” Wingels said. “I think it was a good summer for him mentally to come to a new organization, come to a new group of guys and re-establish his game. It’s tough when you’re with the same coaches, same team for so long; maybe what you do gets taken for granted. He looks good and he’s skating really well and I think he moves really well for a big man. He’s strong on the pucks and he’s a good asset for us.

Bouma isn’t here to be a top-six player. He’s not here to fulfill a contract that he no longer has. The Blackhawks needed depth, energy and a physical presence and in brining that, Bouma has earned steady work.  

“We knew the player coming in that we wanted him to play that style and he’s done a good job of it, too,” Quenneville said of Bouma. “So it’s something we were looking for in our needs and it fit perfectly."