Bruins Optimistic That League, Players Will Reach Deal, Avoid Another Owners’ Lockout This Fall

Bruins Optimistic That League, Players Will Reach Deal, Avoid Another Owners' Lockout This FallAfter falling to the Capitals in Game 7 on Wednesday, the Bruins know they won't play again until next season.

What they don't know is when, or even if, that next season will begin.

The NHL's collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15, and fears of another owners' lockout like the one that cost the league the entire 2004-05 season have long been looming ominously.

But while formal negotiations between the owners and the NHL Players' Association have yet to begin, there is optimism that another work stoppage will be avoided.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli joked that he would get fined if he went into detail on the subject, but he did offer a positive outlook on the pending talks.

"I have every confidence in both sides that they will get the deal done," Chiarelli said during the club's breakup day on Friday. "What I can say is that I've observed over the last year that there really hasn't been the doom and gloom reporting from either side and, to me, I view that as a positive sign because, usually, where there's smoke, there's fire. I'm optimistic that we'll get something done."

The Bruins players are also heading into the offseason optimistic that the 2012-13 campaign will get under way on time without another lockout.

"I don't want to go through another one. I've already been through one," veteran Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said. "I have no idea which way it's going to go. I think both sides are aware that what happened last time wasn't the greatest for the game, and the game is in really good spot right now. I would assume that both sides would be eager to get a deal done."

The game is in a good spot. The league had record revenues for the fifth straight season in 2011-12, with the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement producing $2.9 billion worth of revenue, according to the league itself. Attendance and ratings are up; the league has landed a solid national TV deal with NBC; and, coupled with the strength of the Canadian dollar, that has all contributed to steady growth.

With so much money rolling in, it would be hard for the owners to plead poverty and shutter the doors again after winning so many concessions from the players in the last lockout. That stoppage led to the implementation of a salary cap and a 24 percent rollback of all existing salaries.

"We negotiated for where we are," said Thornton, who signed a two-year extension worth $2.2 million late in the season to remain in Boston. "And the game has grown and grown and grown. I like where it's at. I have no problem with the current economic situation. If it changes, it changes. If it doesn't, I'm still good either way. I didn't sign my contract thinking the CBA was going to change, put it that way.

"There better not be another 24 percent rollback again," Thornton added.

While business is better than ever, there are plenty of issues to be addressed. The salary cap has risen from $39 million in the first year out of the lockout in 2005-06 to $64.3 million in 2011-12. With it, the cap floor, set at $16 million below the upper limit, has also climbed, creating problems for teams in struggling markets.

The owners will be looking to eliminate or at least lower the cap floor. The split of the revenue pie could also be a source of contention. NHL players currently get 57 percent, but owners could push to lower that after the NBA and NFL emerged from their lockouts last year with players getting 50 percent or less. NHL owners could also push to eliminate guaranteed contracts, but that would be a very difficult proposal to get the players to accept.

Outside of the financial concerns, other issues such as realignment and the disciplinary process will also be important subjects in the CBA negotiations. The NHLPA shot down the league's attempt at radical realignment during the season, looking to have a voice in the process. They could also seek a role in supplementary discipline and a more meaningful appeals process.

Despite all that, there is still hope on all sides despite the fact that new NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman have not begun what will be a very important round of negotiations for the future of the game.

The NHLPA's team reps have not started their offseason meetings yet, either. Bruins team rep Daniel Paille expects those meetings to begin once the playoffs wrap up, but he fully expects the players to be reporting to camp on time in September.

"There's meetings in the summer, all throughout the summer, to get players informed about what happened this year and, as the summer goes on, what's to come," Paille said. "I would imagine we'll have more of an idea then, but we should be all right.

"For me, I think it should be pretty clear that we'll have a season next year," Paille said.

Clearly, after watching their team suffer an early exit from the postseason, Bruins fans and hockey fans everywhere can only hope the next season starts as soon as possible.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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