A dark day for hockey

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:20 AM ET

The only crowd at the Corel Centre yesterday was the media horde assembled around NHL VP Bill Daly.

In other words, nothing has changed in the NHL's current labour war.

While the Senators were supposed to open the season last night against the Montreal Canadiens, their home building sat empty, save for a minor hockey practice. Instead, Daly was in town doing a tour of various media outlets.

If there's supposed to be any hope we'll see an NHL season, Daly sure didn't offer any yesterday. He talked about trying to bridge the gap with the NHL Players' Association for a new collective bargaining agreement, but no talks are planned.

"I would hope, at some point, we'll be able to sit down and have productive discussions," said Daly. "None are planned at this point, but I would hope the union is using this time to try to come up with creative ways to get an agreement.

"The NHL has been aggressive and proactive in trying to move the process forward. We've had aggressive meeting schedules and in the final stages, we asked the union to set aside time every day to try to get something done. We need the union to take a hard look at where we are and what might be done to move this process forward."

Daly said there should be a sense of urgency within the union's leadership to get something done because he estimated the 700 players have already lost more than $200 million in salaries as a result of the lockout. He admits the owners are also paying a price.

Though fans in Canada remained concerned about the return of the NHL because the game means so much here, there's not much notice in the United States.

OFF RADAR SCREEN

In fact, hockey has slipped off the map in a big way.

"The lockout is not good for business. This is not where we want to be and that's why we've been working as hard as we have been for the last five years trying to get it resolved," said Daly. "I don't think the apathy is any different than what we found in basketball in 1999 or in baseball during their various disputes.

"Sports fans are tired of these types of disputes. The fans saw this coming. There was no question that if we didn't have a deal, there wouldn't be hockey. Everybody was prepared -- hoping against the inevitable -- but prepared for it. The polling shows strong support for ownership's position. Fans continue to be supportive and they're going to come back to our game."

Daly maintained he's still hopeful the two sides can find a resolution and there will be a season. While he disputed the notion there's a drop-date for the year to be cancelled, sources indicate if there's no deal between Dec. 15 and Dec. 31 then there won't be any hockey.

"The last proposal from the union was regressive in nature and took several steps back," said Daly. "We're focused on the negotiation process. Obviously, we know as a practical matter we need to play a legitimate schedule to have a legitimate season, but we're totally focused on negotiating a resolution.

"We don't like to focus on crunch times. That's not what we're looking at. We're putting 100% of our energy towards getting the right deal and we're not thinking about any date. All we want to do is get a deal in place and then we'll think about what kind of schedule we're going to have."


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