SUN Hockey Pool

Just mouths are opening

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

Pot shots, not slap shots, were all that was heard on what should have been the first night of the National Hockey League regular season.

Instead of being on hand to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning unveil their Stanley Cup banner, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman went over old territory on his lockout stance. He spoke on an internet chat room site and took a few calls on The Fan 590, but it was all a repeat of attacks on the position held by the players' association regarding a new collective bargaining agreement.

"They're mis-reading the tea leaves...we're running out of gas," Bettman said on The Fan of counterpart Bob Goodenow and the union.

As to the chance of any back-door negotiations, Bettman said "none whatsoever" were planned. Reminded that union senior director Ted Saskin said Tuesday the ball is in the owners' court because (players) made the last offer, Bettman said he found the comment "curious."

"Their last proposal was worse than their prior proposal," he said. "I would submit that the puck never made it to our end."

Bettman did try to assure people that the league's strategy does not revolve around letting the dispute fester until next autumn and then bringing in replacement players, claiming comments to that end by Atlanta Thrashers co-owner Steve Belkin were not accurate. Bettman fined Belkin $250,000 US earlier this week.

South of the border, it would seem Americans are treating the lockout with the same disdain they have for most big Canadian news stories. A Rogers Sportsnet poll of 1,183 U.S. citizens showed 56% were not aware an NHL lockout is in effect, and just 6% said they were interested in watching the NHL when play resumes.

The poll, conducted by Zogby International between Oct. 1-3, is accurate to within 2.9%.

Players' association president Trevor Linden also recognized the failed start of the regular season, but predictably put the blame on the owners.

"We are...left waiting for the league to step forward with a meaningful, non-salary cap proposal, or to join us in negotiations on the four-point framework we presented Sept. 9," Linden said in a release.


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