SUN Hockey Pool

New talks? Don't count on it soon

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

The NHL Players' Association is ready to go back to the bargaining table, but it takes two to tango.

That was the message delivered by NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin during an interview with the Sun from his Toronto office yesterday on what was supposed to be the opening night of the NHL season at the Corel Centre.

Saskin made it clear that there's not much sense contacting the NHL if league vice-president Bill Daly is going to spend the next few weeks visiting cities in an attempt to drum up public support.

"At the end of the day, I don't think it's good to stand on ceremony," said Saskin. "I think we both have to be working on ways that we can bridge the gap. They haven't shown any willingness to bridge the gap.

'30-CITY TOUR'

"We're willing to go back to the table at any time or in any place. Right now, they seem to be embarking on a 30-city tour. I'm not sure if I called them up to interrupt their media tour that we'd have much luck in negotiating in good faith. It doesn't sound like they're interested in doing much negotiating right now."

Saskin said comments by Atlanta Thrashers owner Steve Belkin, which indicated the league is ready to use replacement players, is proof the NHL is willing to go to any length to put a $31-million US salary cap in place.

"It's becoming pretty clear that their agenda is not to bargain with us," said Saskin. "They're going to try to extract a cap through their lockout."

Saskin said he and NHL executive director Bob Goodenow have talked about ways to resolve the dispute, but noted it was the union that brought the last offer to the bargaining table.

"I never would want to say it's pointless to go the table. The problem we are faced with is that we're willing to look at any other resolution ... other than a cap," said Saskin.

"If they're prepared to discuss other ways of salary restraint, then we're prepared to discuss those with them. At this point, (Daly) understands everything they've proposed to us is a cap because it requires a percentage limit on revenues that would go to player costs."

UP TO OWNERS

In a statement, NHLPA president Trevor Linden put the onus on the owners to resolve the dispute.

"(Commissioner Gary) Bettman and the owners hold the key to getting the season under way," Linden said. "They can come to the bargaining table and begin to negotiate a fair agreement or they can continue to cancel games, deny players the opportunity to play and deny hockey fans the chance to watch and cheer on their team.

"We're ready and waiting to negotiate a fair deal that can work for everyone."


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