It's D-Day for talks

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:10 AM ET

Mats Sundin hops on a jet today to join the IMG Worldstars Tour in Europe and he is keeping his fingers crossed that participating in the tour will amount to a training camp of sorts.

"It's a chance to play against good competition and hopefully we can use that for preparing for what could come in a month," the Maple Leafs captain said after taking part in Brendan Shanahan's two-day summit at the Four Seasons Hotel. "I see it as a way to get ready. I hope we start after Christmas."

Sundin may not have much more than hope. The NHL and NHL Players' Association will meet today in Toronto in the first round of collective bargaining negotiations since early September. The NHLPA will put forth an offer that won't include a salary cap, and if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman sticks to his mandate to achieve cost certainty, it's hard to see how these talks will have much legs.

The speculation has been the players will put an offer that will include a luxury tax that would be 75 cents on every dollar over $40 million US, a salary rollback of 8-10%, a restructuring of the system of salary arbitration and a reduction of the entry level cap to $850,000.

There has to be give and take in any negotiation, but have the players already given as much as they are willing to? Whether the NHLPA is willing to concede more than it has is highly debatable. If the owners don't like what they see today, it probably will be okay to book that trip south in January or February. There wouldn't be any NHL hockey to miss.

"I think that's exactly what the (Players' Association) board is looking at," Leafs defenceman Ken Klee said. "How many other ways can we restructure this to give (the owners) more without there being an actual hard cap? I think both sides will have to come out of this a bit happy and a bit sad."

SOME DESIRES

Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer, has little interest in an offer that won't meet at least some of the owners' desires.

"I always like to remain hopeful, if not optimistic," Daly told Sun Media. "The union has suggested publicly, and also to us, that they believe the proposal they will make can form the basis for a new collective bargaining agreement that can save at least a portion of the season."

There have been rumours that both sides would agree to a 36-game regular season if a deal can be hammered out some time in the next month or so. There is not a lot of time for the two sides to go deep into negotiations if the talks don't begin well.

Although a few hundred NHL players have gone to Europe to play during the lockout, they are ready to return to North America at a moment's notice to start training camp. But the fact so many have gone overseas indicates they think there is little chance of anything resembling a season being salvaged.

"Time is ticking, no question about it," Detroit Red Wings goalie Curtis Joseph said.

"But I have always been optimistic that something is going to get hammered out."


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