Sounds of silence annoying players

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

TORONTO -- Get back to the bargaining table.

That could be the common refrain heard by NHL Players Association executive director Bob Goodenow today when the union's executive committee and representatives of the 30 clubs meet at a Toronto hotel.

With the season on the brink of being cancelled, sources say the union is getting plenty of feedback from its 700 members who are asking why there haven't been any talks on a new collective bargaining agreement.

"That's probably the biggest frustration in all of this for the media, fans and the players: That there's no negotiations taking place and everybody is wondering why these two sides aren't talking," Chicago Blackhawks winger Matthew Barnaby said from his Buffalo home yesterday.

"As long as there are no conversations taking place, then there isn't going to be any hope that this is going to be resolved. Players want to get back to playing, but we know that we're not going to accept a salary cap."

The NHLPA may be forced to make the next move if enough of its members apply pressure to Goodenow and union president Trevor Linden to resume negotiations.

League sources say the players probably have about six weeks to get their best deal before commissioner Gary Bettman announces he's going to cancel the entire season, then declares an impasse next September.

A 15-minute meeting last week between NHL vice-president Bill Daly and NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin in New York ended with the union insisting it's not willing to discuss a cap. That was the end of talks and no more meetings were scheduled.

'STARTING POINT'

"We made what we thought was a good offer ... a good starting point for discussions," said Barnaby. "What we got back was a one-page proposal and every system was a cap. We're not going to accept that. We're wasting time talking if all they're going to discuss is a cap."

Billy Smith predicted this fight will last all season. The former New York Islanders goalie insisted he's not taking sides, but made a plea for the NHL and the players to settle their differences.

"I know I got lumped in with the stuff that Guy Lafleur said (about bankrupting the league), but I don't think that's the right approach," Smith said from his Ottawa home.

"These players are just like you and me: If we were offered a lot of money, would we turn it down? Of course, we'd take it. How can you blame a guy who is offered $90 million over 10 years for not taking it. Yes, he's going to take it.

"All I'm trying to say is that the owners and the players have got to use common sense. The owners want the games to go on and the players want to play. It's up to both sides to get this done because what's happening right now isn't good for anybody."

Barnaby believes the season has to be saved.

"Not having a year would just be devastating for hockey," he said. "Look what it did to baseball and it's only starting to recover 10 years later. If we're out for 18 months, the ramifications would just be huge. I don't know if it's ego on Gary Bettman's part right now or something personal (with Goodenow). I just know that neither side wants to lose."


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