SUN Hockey Pool

Hockey Not in Canada

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

TORONTO -- NHL fans, great ready for your winter of discontent.

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson told the Sun following yesterday's NHL Players' Association meeting that he expects the season to be cancelled because of commissioner Gary Bettman's unwillingness to negotiate.

To make matters worse, Flyers goalie Robert Esche called Bettman a "madman" for his attempt to force a salary cap on the players.

"Gary has taken the stance he's taken, I think it's unlikely there will be a season," said Alfredsson, a VP on the union's bargaining committee. "We know that there are things we can do to help the league. We're not sitting there wanting the status quo.

"But it's not going to be a salary cap. With Gary's stance, it's salary cap, take or leave it. I don't see us getting a deal. The players are prepared to sit out a whole year if that's what it takes. We don't want to, but they want us to take a cap or there won't be a deal if that's going to be the case."

DEALING WITH 'MADMAN'

Esche, who has already started working construction for his brother's company in Vermont, told Rogers Sportsnet that Bettman doesn't even like hockey.

"A lot of us (players) are just moving on and doing other things," said Esche. "We realize we're negotiating ... we're talking to a madman. A guy who has no rhyme or reason. Personally, I don't even think he's even a fan of the game."

After public statements by Brian Pothier, Rob Ray, Mike Commodore and Pierre Dagenais about unhappiness with the union's stance, there was a belief this session with union head Bob Goodenow might be fiery.

However, those who were on hand say that wasn't the case. The 74 players on hand asked pointed questions, but didn't challenge the union's position. There was no demand for Goodenow to get back to the bargaining table.

UNITED THEY STAND

"I can tell you there are absolutely no cracks," said Goodenow. "You've heard a couple of players, and mostly younger players. We've got 700 players and you're going to have different opinions. To suggest there is (a crack) is a mischaracterization of the reality."

If anything, the players might be more militant than they've ever been. Indications are the players were told the last proposal made by the NHL -- a $31-million US salary cap -- would have still had nine teams losing money.

"I know that a lot of the players in that room are angry and we're angry at the league for the position they've taken," said Lightning rep Tim Taylor. "I know as players we've been quiet. I would think you're going to hear us speaking out a bit more."

Don't expect the players to call the league any time soon.

"It's up to the league," said Blues captain Chris Pronger. "We made the last proposal and they came back with the same old proposal which was a salary cap. I'm not willing to accept a salary cap and I'm sure no else will."


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