SUN Hockey Pool

Optimism fades as season appears lost

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:32 AM ET

Veterans of the 1994-95 lockout were warned many times that season was dead, only to have it rise from the ashes in January. But some of those members of the National Hockey League Players Association executive aren't expecting the same happy ending this time.

"I'd love to sit down and say we can save the season, but there's nothing to indicate we can," union vice-president Vince Damphousse said yesterday after emerging from yesterday's meeting with the league.

"I think Yogi Berra said it's never over 'til it's over, but it's hard to say now," union president Trevor Linden added.

Low level talks were kept alive in that first lockout after an apparent impasse before Christmas, but yesterday's developments are likely all the face-to-face chat that will take place prior to the holidays.

"It's not mistrust, it's fact," Damphousse said, talking of the competing numbers on salary increases that have made projections from both sides look so radically different.

"Last year it was a 2.2%, so why would the league say salaries are sky-rocketing? The general managers know how to work the system now. I just took a 15% pay cut (in his new deal with the Colorado Avalanche) because that's the way the GMs are doing business now, learning from their mistakes."

Damphousse said he wasn't totally surprised by the league's reply to the 24% rollback, saying NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has tried in the past to paint player concessions as mere public relations gestures.

"A lot of our guys were mad that we gave away that much, so to call it a stunt is absurd. I was a lot more optimistic 10 years ago because we sat down and talked the same language. But it's almost as if they've been preparing for this for two or three years.

"It's very clear they want to force the cap on us and they're not willing to negotiate."

Bill Guerin of the Dallas Stars balked at Bettman's claim that the savings reaped from the rollback would be absorbed by inflation.

THEIR RESPONSIBILITY

"That's not our responsibility, it's theirs (owners)," he said. "As much as they could go up, they could go down.

"It's a little different this time around (for a settlement) and I'm less optimistic) of a deal."


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