HAMILTON, Ontario -- Looking to end the owners' lockout, NHL players last night offered to accept limits on rookie salaries, calling the move a "significant concession."
The offer, coupled with a request that owners drop their demand for all-encompassing salary controls, came after a seven-hour negotiating session in Buffalo, N.Y.
Bob Goodenow, the NHL Players Association's executive director, declined to elaborate.
"Conversation, hopefully, leads to progress," he said. "It's important to talk and extend the process. Significant is a matter of interpretation, but we have to try to unlock the lockout, and we could jeopardize it by talking about details."
For that reason, neither Goodenow nor the Los Angeles Kings' Marty McSorley, who also attended the meeting with four other players including the Washington Capitals' Kelly Miller, would talk about the specifics of the players' offer last night when they appeared at a news conference during the union-sponsored Four-on-Four Challenge charity tournament at Copps Coliseum.
Later, however, Philadelphia Flyers forward Mark Recchi said the proposal included mandatory two-way entry-level contracts and the elimination of free agency and salary arbitration for Group 1 players, those in their first contract under a specific age.
"I don't know how they could look at offer and find it anything but a step, a major step, in their direction," said the New York Islanders' Ray Ferraro. "It will put a drag on salaries. But am I optimistic that the owners will see it that way? As things go on, you stop riding the roller coaster and simply wait and see."
Goodenow said he and commissioner Gary Bettman will talk on the phone today. He said the league did not respond immediately to the new proposal because it requires analysis by the owners.
McSorley, meanwhile, said the owners' response to the offer would reveal their true motives.
"We believe our proposal is a significant concession that will sniff out any desire for compromise on the side of the owners and general managers," said McSorley. "It's significant in the entry-level area and it will have a major effect on the marketplace and enable them to be in an advantageous negotiating position on player contracts."
For more than a week, the NHL has dropped hints that a rookie salary cap could be enough to nudge the talks to fruition.
"We've called their bluff from the beginning and we're calling it again now," McSorley said after briefing the players here. "At the start they said the issue was small-market teams, but that was a smoke screen. Now we've made an offer that the 50 guys in the dressing room here were shaking their heads over. Every one of them is saying, 'Why wouldn't this end the lockout?' "
Troy Loney of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks said he thinks the union has been "extreme" in its past three offers, while seeing "absolutely no movement" on the other side.
Dallas Stars forward Russ Courtnall agreed some players "may have" felt the union had gone too far. "But the bottom line is we want to play hockey," he said. "We're trying to make concessions . . . without giving everything away."
In Washington, Capitals president Dick Patrick said he had not heard from the league, but was encouraged by the news of movement.
"The league has always said it will be flexible, as long as what is presented will allow the league to survive," Patrick said. "A rookie salary cap or some system that will put a drag on salaries is what we need. If the players are starting to offer changes, it is a good sign."
Goodenow, however, asked if he would suggest that players planning to sign with European teams delay that action, said no.
"I think the players should assume this is going to continue to go on for some time," he said.
The 41-day lockout, the longest work stoppage in NHL history, already has led the league to cancel 14 games from each team's 84-game schedule. So far, 227 games have been missed.