Players take last shot

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

TORONTO -- This is as good as it's going to get for NHL owners.

And if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and league VP Bill Daly give a quick thumbs down to the NHL Players' Association's latest offer to settle their labour dispute, Chicago Blackhawks' tough guy Matthew Barnaby predicts there won't be hockey this season.

"If this doesn't work, then the season is done," Barnaby told the Sun yesterday. "There's already some players who feel like we're giving up too much in the first place, but we're doing this because we want to play.

"If this offer gets shunned by the league and all they come back with is a $31-million hard cap again, then there won't be a season. We're not going to keep giving things up. If they don't work with us on this offer, then there's not much more we can do."

Exactly three months after the NHLPA tendered its last offer to the league, the two sides will resume negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement today at 11 a.m. -- their first talks since the lockout started.

Daly hopes the proposal the players are putting forward is a genuine one.

"I always like to remain hopeful, if not optimistic," said Daly from New York. "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.

"While that would be great, I would be satisfied if this meeting demonstrates, really for the first time in this process, that the union is serious about negotiating with us, and serious about finding solutions to address the very significant financial problems that face the league and the game."

ANXIOUS MOMENTS

People across the hockey world are anxious to see how Bettman reacts to the proposal. Though many players have headed for Europe to stay in shape while waiting to see if the NHL season will finally begin, they'll also be glued to their 'PA web site -- The Source -- in the next couple of days to get updates.

"Hopefully, this proposal will satisfy the owners and we'll be able to get back to playing hockey," said Senators defenceman Chris Phillips from Sweden. "I know it's not going to have a hard salary cap, which they've wanted, but I would think there's elements that would work to help slow down the escalation of salaries.

"I'm not surprised we're going back to them. I thought we had to try to do something because we can't just let the season go away."

The owners are willing to listen, but don't think they're just going to accept whatever the players put on the table. Senators president Roy Mlakar said the owners are determined to get a system that works.

"Anytime both sides are talking, there is hope," said Mlakar.

"We need to get it right this time and Gary Bettman has the total support of the board of governors."


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