SUN Hockey Pool

Owners need to find some trust

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:19 AM ET

TORONTO -- Senators owner Eugene Melnyk isn't buying what the NHL Players' Association is trying to sell. Turns out the feeling is mutual.

Union senior director Ted Saskin has fired back at Melnyk's comments Sunday that the proposal of a 24% salary rollback by the union was a "one-shot" deal that wouldn't solve the league's financial woes.

"I found Mr. Melnyk's recent comments puzzling, especially in light of how our proposal would impact his team," Saskin told The Canadian Press yesterday. "The Ottawa Senators, with a large number of players under contract for a number of years, have over $10 million in guaranteed reductions to payroll in the first year and over an additional $17 million in the following years.

"When coupled with the other important system changes being made, I fail to see how Ottawa would not be able to manage their player budget in a way that does not provide them with a significantly lower player cost for the foreseeable future."

But that's the bottom line in all of this: The NHL's battle over a new collective bargaining agreement is a matter of trust. And it's clear the owners don't trust each other.

With the NHL set to reject the union's proposal today, there's a belief commissioner Gary Bettman is going to slap another salary cap on the table today and the season will be over.

Don't be surprised if union boss Bob Goodenow and the executive committee -- including president Trevor Linden and Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson -- walk out of the room as soon as the offer is tabled.

"My guess is the league will be back with a hard cap, but I hope I'm wrong," said agent Steve Bartlett of Sports Consulting Group. "I would hope they would recognize the concessions the players have made.

"If they (include a cap), there's a good chance the players will be so offended they'll just walk away from the table. I would be flabbergasted if the owners did that because of the amount of work that went into that proposal. I believe that (offer) can help lead to an agreement."

The reason the owners don't like the proposal tabled by the players is simple: It doesn't include a salary cap, which means it won't stop the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and New York Rangers from signing whoever they want at any price.

You'd think a bunch of guys who are smart businessmen would be able to police themselves, but there's been no evidence of it in the past. That's why Bettman wants to put a cap in place.

The public has taken a long, hard look at this proposal along with the owners. The union's website has had more than 15,000 hits since the offer was posted there Thursday.

Bettman has promised the owners he's going to get a cap system in place before the puck is dropped again and he's willing to let the season die if that's what it takes to get it.

'A LOT OF MONEY'

"It could be over, but who knows? I thought the offer we made was pretty good," said Senators winger Martin Havlat from the Czech Republic. "When you look at taking a 24% pay cut, that's a lot of money. It doesn't look good. I don't know if the (union) is going to walk out of the room right away or if they're going to talk about it."

Senators president Roy Mlakar said he hopes the two sides will participate in meaningful negotiations, but dismissed the players' offer as no solution.

"Anytime you negotiate, then you have hope," said Mlakar. "The two sides have at least come to the same table and talked about the problem. The proposal they made is an admission that our economic system doesn't work.

"It doesn't solve our problems because you're going to have 40% of the marketplace as free agents (in July). I personally believe that there isn't a system in North America that doesn't have an aspect of revenues and expenses. If you can't tie expenses to revenues, you don't know what your business is going to generate."

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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