Sun, Feb 20, 2005 - Page 24 News List

There still may be a ray of hope for salvaging season


There might be an NHL season, after all.

The NHL and the players' association will meet in New York today after the league requested the sides get together again.

On Wednesday, commissioner Gary Bettman canceled the season, saying it was too late to play any semblance of a schedule. That made the NHL the first major North American sports league to lose a full season to a labor dispute.

Or did it?

"I think the timing has always been to get an agreement so that we can play," said New Jersey Devils president Lou Lamoriello, who has taken part in previous negotiations. "Right now, it's still get an agreement, and then if we get an agreement, then can we play?

"I think it's a little different than it was before."

In a statement released Friday night, the players' association said the NHL made the offer late Thursday night to get together. There was no immediate word on who would take part in the meeting.

"The way everything has transpired, nothing surprises me," said Lamoriello, who declined to say whether he would be in attendance.

NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly was involved in a closed-door meeting Friday evening and declined to comment.

There hadn't been any official contact between the NHL and the players' association since Tuesday night -- when the sides traded what they said were final offers.

All proposals were rejected, and Bettman went ahead and canceled the season Wednesday at a news conference that was scheduled two days earlier.

"I don't think anything was premature. It was a necessity," Lamoriello said. "It didn't appear to be going anywhere and there was too much jockeying going on.

"Right now, there's a chance of people getting down to possibly getting this done."

Bettman said in a letter to NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow on Tuesday that the league's salary-cap proposal of US$42.5 million was as far as he could go and that there was no time or flexibility for negotiation.

Goodenow sent a letter back, proposing a soft cap at US$49 million that could be exceeded by as much as 10 percent by teams twice during the course of the six-year deal.

It appeared there was momentum toward reaching a deal and that the season had a chance to be saved, since the sides were only US$6.5 million apart on their cap numbers. But talking ceased after each side sent two letters to the other on Tuesday night.

There were big breakthroughs Monday in Niagara Falls, New York, when the NHL agreed to drop its demand that player costs be linked to league revenues, and the union, in turn, came off its steadfast opposition to a salary cap.

"We got through the philosophical end of it, so there's a better chance, but I think there is still a lot of work that has to be done and it still takes some time,'' Lamoriello said.

Bettman said the NHL couldn't afford the union's final proposal and said if all 30 teams spent US$49 million on player costs, then more money would be paid out to players than last season.

Rumors began to swirl on Thursday, once the realization set in that the season had indeed been canceled.

"A lot of players, owners, managers saw how close the two negotiating teams got to a deal and I think people are just exploring if that can be explored any more," agent Pat Morris said Friday.

"I don't know if it'll have a successful conclusion."

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