NHL's decision a league killer?

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

TORONTO -- The NHL could be setting itself up for destruction today when it officially rejects its players' offer of a 24% salary rollback. A memo obtained by TSN indicates the league will turn down the NHL Players' Association proposal during a meeting today in Toronto -- a decision that could lead to the cancellation of the season.

Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Luke Richardson predicts such a move could have a devastating impact on the league.

Richardson, 35, who's stayed well informed during the lockout and attended player meetings last month, said he believes the NHL could go out of business if commissioner Gary Bettman chooses to kill off the entire 2004-05 season.

'ON DEATH ROW'

"We're like the criminal on death row who is being convicted of a crime they didn't commit," said Richardson, an Ottawa native. "We're getting crucified for something we didn't do. We just signed the contracts we were given.

"I'll tell you, 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.

"If they cancel the season, there could be enough repercussions to kill the league. That's why as players we've been willing to work at this. But if hockey gets cancelled, forget about it being the fourth or fifth major sport (in North America) ... it's going to be the 104th very quickly."

All this comes in the wake of comments by Senators owner Eugene Melnyk that the players' rollback offer "isn't a solution" and news yesterday afternoon the league is going to flatly reject the offer.

"We can do 100% if they'd like," deadpanned Richardson when told the 24% wasn't viewed as enough by the league. "I just think it's time for the other side to accept some responsibility for where we are right now. We're doing this as players because we want to play hockey.

"We're not just sitting here trying to keep the same things. We understand that adjustments have to be made to save the season. We're trying to help the league. You hope that they're willing to negotiate. We're willing to talk about things we have in this offer."

WON'T ACCEPT CAP

The players have maintained throughout negotiations they're not going to accept a hard salary cap and it's doubtful Bettman will stray much from the $31-million cap he's offered in the past.

"They're going to have to get it through their heads that we're not going to take the cap," said Richardson. "We're not going to accept a cap. That's never going to happen. We want a system that works for everybody.

"I just think (the players' offers) was a great push by us to get a deal done. We want to start the season. We want to get playing. We can still get people excited about hockey. Hopefully, this can lead to something."

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com 


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