Still hope for a season

BRUCE GARRIOCH and MIKE ZEISBERGER, Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:43 AM ET

The approach of the holiday season obviously has put Bob Goodenow in the spirit of giving.

But will it be enough to save the National Hockey League season?

In a proposal that stunned the NHLPA's own rank and file as much as it did the owners, Goodenow and the union's executive council offered the NHL a whopping across-the-board 24% pay cut on all existing contracts and estimated it would save the league $528 million US over the next three years.

Goodenow said asking his players to take such a dramatic salary hack was drastic.

"Players should be taken aback by that," he said.

They were.

While it was not the hard salary cap the league has been holding out for, the bold move left some player reps stunned when they were informed by the NHLPA executive of the salary hacks during a conference call yesterday afternoon.

Asked about the reaction during the call, Buffalo Sabres rep Jay McKee said words were uttered "that you couldn't print in the newspaper."

The NHLPA estimates that their package -- which includes changes to revenue sharing, salary arbitration, the entry level system and a luxury tax -- will save the league $1 billion over a six-year term.

But, the sources say, the players can expect to receive a proposal from the NHL Tuesday that will try to link revenues to expenses during a meeting which will likely be held in Toronto. Sounds suspiciously like a salary cap, doesn't it?

"We could have simply rejected it and walked out and that would have been the end of it,"commissioner Gary Bettman said. "Because of the rollback issue and the amount of paper, we wanted to make sure we took a look at it and gave the appropriate response. We will have a counterproposal."

The union's proposal was believed to be about 240 pages, leaving NHL owners with a lot of paperwork to leaf through over the next few days.

"The one-time element (i.e. the 24% pay cut) is obviously an essential ingredient of implementing a system," Bettman said. "It's a one-time element and we really have to focus on the system issues."

Bettman acknowledged the salary cuts were an indication that the union has identified, at least to some extent, the league's dire economic state.

But his implication that the rollback was a one-time fix -- and not necessarily a long-term solution -- did not sit well with Goodenow.

"The inequities in place in the overall marketplace can be addressed significantly with this type of a program," Goodenow said. "In addition to the immediate impact, there is major ongoing deflating pressures that this 24% will produce."

Goodenow also rejected the league's suggestion that the union would be seen as showboating by publicly releasing its proposal.

"This is no grandstand ploy -- this is no PR stunt. This is serious negotiations."

Bettman pointed out the weakness with the offer was the inability to link salaries to revenues. But if they offer another salary cap then Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, a member of the union's executive committee that formulated the proposal, warned their won't be an NHL season in the foreseeable future.

"If they say they want a guaranteed link then there likely won't be hockey this year," said Alfredsson, who would give up $7 million of his new five-year, $32.5-million deal."


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