TORONTO -- Forget it, there isn't going to be an NHL season.
Not a chance.
The biggest question going into yesterday's NHL Players' Association meeting was whether the union would call the NHL to restart negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The answer was a resounding no.
"Why would we? What's the point?" Stars winger Bill Guerin, a VP on the executive committee, asked yesterday. "Why would we go back when (commissioner) Gary (Bettman) has made it clear he's not willing to talk. Sure, it's frustrating, but we're the only ones who are willing to negotiate right now.
"Gary Bettman said in an interview last week that he doesn't want to compromise and there isn't going to be any compromise. That means he doesn't want to negotiate. You can't negotiate with somebody who doesn't want to negotiate. It has to work both ways."
ALL HOPE IS LOST
So that's it, folks. If there was any hope that the NHL players who attended the two-day information session would emerge from the room ready to get back to the bargaining table it was quickly extinguished.
Instead, the players made it clear the ball is in the court of Bettman and VP Bill Daly to come up with a proposal to get the season going after the league flatly rejected an offer from the union made Sept. 9 in Toronto.
Now, with the season hanging in the balance, a veteran like Vincent Damphousse told reporters yesterday he realizes his career could be over if there's no NHL season, yet he'll do whatever it takes to avoid a salary cap.
"We had negotiations and our side negotiated in good faith," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who is also a VP on the executive committee. "If you've got one side saying, 'Take this or leave it,' which is what's happening right now with the NHL, then there's no negotiation. There's nothing to talk about.
"If we could find a way where we could make a fair deal that would work for both sides, then definitely we're willing to negotiate and get a deal done. That's not the situation. We want a marketplace. We don't have a number and the owners can make what they want. We want the market to decide the salaries."
The players won't initiate talks, but union head Bob Goodenow maintained the proposal made last month, which would have saved NHL teams $100 million (all terms US), is "negotiable" and to say the players "want the status quo" is not true.
"It's unfortunate the owners didn't look at it," said Buffalo defenceman Jay McKee. "What we offered is a great deal and it's unfortunate that some of the owners just brushed it aside. They're not willing to work with anything. We can't do much if they're going to take this kind of stance. As a union we're willing to miss the season. That's not what we want, but we realize that could be the case."
And they realize saving the season is all but a lost cause. Bettman won't give a drop-dead date to cancel the year, but he indicated the season "will slip away" and the feeling is it will be around Dec. 15.
Preparing for the worst, NHLPA president Trevor Linden confirmed the players will begin receiving a monthly stipend from the union in the next month or so. Nothing has been worked out, but sources say it will be in the $5,000 per-month range until a new CBA is in place.
"As a union, we have to be strong," said Stars goaltender Marty Turco. "As players, we don't want the season to be cancelled, but we're not going to be forced into anything by the guys in New York, either.
"We've been locked out by the league and we know we're in a risky position. If we lose the season, it will be a bitter pill to swallow, but we have to be prepared for that to happen."
And so too should all hockey fans.