Riches on the table?

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:16 AM ET

"What did you bring me, my good friend, to keep me from the gallows pole?"

That line is originally from a mournful Led Zeppelin song about a condemned man asking his friends and family if they'd scraped together enough gold and silver to buy his head out of the hangman's noose.

Today, it could just as easily be hockey fans' mournful plea to the NHL Players' Association as it tables what will likely be its final offer to the NHL.

Has the union put enough riches on the table to keep this season from the gallows pole, or are we just a quick snap and a few leg twitches away from a long, cold winter of silence?

"I think we'll know right away," said locked-out Oilers' winger Ethan Moreau.

"I think what happens here will give us a good indication if the league is willing to negotiate. If nothing comes of this, then it solidifies in our minds that the outcome was predetermined, that they had already decided to lock us out for a year to see if we had the resolve to get through it."

If Gary Bettman dismisses the union's offer out of hand, the season is as good as done.

"If they start negotiating, great, maybe things can get done," said Moreau. "If they walk away from this, it's not going to be pretty."

It all comes down to what's in the proposal, and from what's been leaked so far - a meaningless 10% wage rollback (which can be made up in a player's next contract), luxury taxes, entry-level salary drags and a revenue sharing element - it doesn't look good.

IRONCLAD LINK

The owners, the ones we've heard from publicly, anyhow, remain firmly committed to an ironclad link between revenues and expenses, which the latest NHLPA offer doesn't include.

"Let's hope that the offer is not just a bunch of crap," said Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe. "I hope that all this encouraging dialogue we've heard (from the union) means there is going to be some teeth in this, something that the NHL can look at. But I have my doubts, personally."

We all know the union's offer by itself isn't enough to get a deal done, but is what they've proposed enough to generate serious negotiations?

"I certainly hope so, but that's the $2-billion question," said Marty Reasoner.

"Hopefully this will stir something up. From the PA's side, we feel we've tried to take steps to correct what we think are problems in the game, so I think it kind of leaves it in the owners' hands to take a step and negotiate.

"We want a free marketplace, they want a cap, and we want to meet in the middle. All we're looking for is for them to take a step, too."

HOPING FOR THE BEST

But while everybody is hoping for the best, they also know that both camps are dug in deeper than the fat guy at the end of a tug-o-war rope, so nobody's packing their equipment bags just yet.

"If they're not going to accept anything but a hard cap, a football system, then I'm not optimistic," said Moreau. "But my biggest concern is that all the owners won't actually look at the proposal. They all have to look at it and run the numbers.

"You can't leave it in Gary's hands or in the hands of the owners' committee because I don't think that's an accurate cross-section of the league."

Over in the Road Runners dressing room, Raffi Torres and Jarret Stoll are waiting to see if they'll be moving down the hall any time soon. They're hopeful, but realize time is running out.

"It looks like this is the last shot," said Stoll. "So I hope they take a serious look at it and try to figure something out because if this falls through, we could be talking about next season, too."

Lowe isn't prepared to say this is the last chance to save the season, but it's going to take several weeks after a deal is agreed to in principal before they can start playing - and they have to start by mid-January.

"The league has been quite clear in not even suggesting to us when a drop-dead date is," said Lowe. "With that in mind I don't think it is the last shot. Agents and the Players' Association always push it to the last minute; they're certainly not going to come out with their best offer on Dec. 9."

But it just might be their last one.

"It's not just a PR stunt to make ourselves look good," said Moreau. "I really hope there's some common ground in our proposal and they look at it and say 'This can work, let's start negotiating.' If they don't do that then basically they're telling everybody they never had any intentions of having a season."


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