Agents like what they hear

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Many player agents rattled their swords, but a couple extended an olive branch yesterday as time officially ran out on starting the National Hockey League season before 2005.

More than 60 agents attended a five-hour Players Association information session at a Chicago airport hotel, as the league's rolling 45-day window to begin play overlapped to Jan. 1.

"Where are the owners? They need to wake up," Edmonton-based agent Ritch Winter said. "From what I've seen in the (union) presentation, the framework is there and I predict it will ultimately be the framework to get a deal done. I guarantee this will be what they sign.

"It's hard to believe these owners are willing to give up, a half, full or even (18 months) when there's a deal on the table that could get this done. I don't know what (commissioner) Gary (Bettman) has been telling the owners, but I think he's making a big mistake."

New Jersey based Mark Gandler said he sees "no hope whatsoever," of starting this season, now two months into the owners' lockout.

NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow and his top negotiators explained their proposals to roll back salaries 5%, change the entry level system and the luxury tax on high-spending teams, as well as give what they claimed was equal time to the owners' six concepts of cost certainty, or salary caps.

Goodenow was adamant that no new proposal was in the offing, but three of the heavy hitters in the agents' lineup -- Canadians Don Meehan, J.P. Barry and Don Baizley -- drew more optimistic conclusions for the season than the likes of Gandler and Winter.

"When you look at this business, do (the owners) really want a lost season?" Barry asked. "I hope both sides realize that to jump off a cliff would do very serious damage."

Meehan said the PA took great pains yesterday to show agents what they've been up against and the rationale for their bargaining stance.

"They were cognizant of the league's concerns," Meehan said. "It allowed us a full examination of the issues. It gave us a perspective of understanding the nature of the negotiations, the aims and objectives of both sides and how it may ultimately resolve itself. We weren't given a jaundiced view of one position. I see possibilities for a resolution."

Baizley said the contentious Levitt report, which claimed the league lost $273 million US in 2002-03, was briefly discussed, along with the equally controversial Forbes magazine franchise values edition that pegged those losses below $100 million.

"The fact that they differ on amounts just lends creedence to the idea that there is legitimate basis for disagreements," Baizley said. "It's not a matter of people being deceitful. Generally accepted accounting principles let you come to different conclusions.

"I won't give up hope on the season. People left the meeting today confident in the people driving the bus."

Added Los Angeles-based agent Ron Salcer: "If the media or the fans were in that room today to hear what we heard, they would be appalled at what has gone on so far. The players should have a deal right now. They have made major concessions, but so far it's falling on deaf ears."


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