Season on thin ice

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 6:53 AM ET

The NHL season is expected to take yet another crushing body check today. A memo leaked to the media says the National Hockey League will reject the union's latest offer that includes a 24% salary rollback to existing contracts.

A counter-proposal will be delivered today, but it's expected to include demands salaries be linked to revenue, which the players see as a salary cap.

"If the season gets cancelled, I'm going to start sending out job applications because hockey is done and they're going to have to abolish the league. If they think they're going to crush the union, they're sadly mistaken," Columbus defenceman Luke Richardson told the Ottawa Sun.

"If they cancel the season, there could be enough repercussions to kill the league."

In a letter to the league's 30 owners dated on the weekend, the NHL's executive vice-president and chief legal officer Bill Daly said the union offer gives short-term relief, but "falls well short of providing the fundamental systemic changes that are required to ensure that overall league economics remain in sync on a going-forward basis."

Neither the league or the NHLPA would comment on the memo.

Commissioner Gary Bettman will meet NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow this afternoon.

The memo comes on the heels of comments from Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk and Edmonton governor Cal Nichols saying the proposal given last Thursday won't solve their teams' ills.

"In my opinion, and that of the Edmonton Oilers, it is an enticement to carry on doing essentially what we're doing and the Edmonton Oilers won't be here long-term if that's what we're prepared to accept," Nichols told Edmonton reporters yesterday.

Flames co-owner Harley Hotchkiss, also the league's chairman of the board, was en route to Toronto yesterday and couldn't be reached for comment.

The Flames owners have refused to speak publicly during the negotiations, deferring comment to president Ken King.

King didn't want to comment on the apparently leaked memo or comments from fellow-owners.

"In view of the on-going process, I'd like to see how things go (today)," he said.

What remains to be seen is the NHL's next move.

The NHLPA has said all along it will not accept a salary cap.

The leaked memo says the NHL counter-proposal will ask for the complete removal of salary arbitration and a "restructuring" of the salary rollback.

Former Flames forward Perry Berezan said if ownership simply dismisses the union's proposal and only demands a salary cap, the season would be over.

"If the owners come back with, 'Sorry, that's not good enough' and that's it, then they never had any intention of negotiating. They never did," he said. "I have a glimmer of hope. It's a poker game and you never know when somebody's really going to show their cards."


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