Crunch time for feuding NHL sides

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 6:55 AM ET

TORONTO -- The NHL's labour dispute has reached a crossroads. The NHL wants a salary cap. The NHL Players' Association won't accept one.

Both sides have dug in their heels and have shown no willingness to negotiate a new contract.

But there is still a chance an agreement can be reached and the season saved. Both sides have made what they feel is their best offer, but neither has declared it their last offer, which means there's room for negotiation.

"A lot of the players I've spoken with are resigned to the fact we're not going to have a season," said Los Angeles-based agent Allan Walsh of Octagon Hockey.

"I have my own personal opinion that we're going to see one more set of negotiations, probably in early January, which could in effect save the season. I just think we're going to see these two sides get together one more time. Negotiations are all about timing and there's still time to get a deal done.

''There's still a chance we can have a season."

The owners and players are going to step back now, talk about what transpired in the last week and then see if there's any wiggle room in the hard-line stances.

"I have no reason for optimism," said Dallas winger Bill Guerin, a vice-president on the NHL Players' Association's executive committee. "We put forth an effort to get a deal done and what we got back was a salary cap in return. They know that we're not going to accept a cap."

Still, this isn't over by a long shot. A lawyer compared what's happening between the NHL and its players to a lawsuit where both sides have a decision to make.

The players have been steadfast in their rejection of a salary cap. The owners are equalling unwilling to budge on their need for one.

COMMON GROUND

The question is: Are both sides willing to lose big time to in an attempt to get what they want? The reality is it's in the best interest of both sides to find some common ground -- and quickly.

The players are losing millions in wages each week. The owners could do huge damage to the sport by cancelling the season and, if they think they're losing money now, it could be even worse when NHL hockey returns.

Both sides have to decide how far they are willing to go and at what cost. There is a belief in some circles that the owners don't want a season and that they'd rather try to bring the players to their knees by instituting a salary-cap system.

"I was optimistic last Thursday when we made the (24% pay cut) offer, that it was a great starting point for negotiations and I honestly did believe it could work if certain things were changed or if the owners wanted some changes," Senators centre Todd White said yesterday.

"They refused (the union's offer). We refused theirs. My optimism is at a low right now. I gotta think there's 30 NHL owners and 700 players that want to play.

''Until they actually cancel the season, as a fan of the game and as a player, I still hope there's something that can be worked out to get us back to playing."

IMPACT OF NHL PROPOSAL

The NHL claims it can save the Senators approximately $10 million (all figures US) under its salary-cap proposal unveiled Tuesday.

Under the plan, salary rollbacks would be different for each player -- no pay cut for players who earn $800,000; a 15% cut for players who earn $800,000-$1.499 million; 20% for $1.5M-$1.99M; 24% for $2M-$3.99M; 30% for $4M-$4.99M; and 35% over $5M.

Following are what the Senators salaries would be under the NHL proposal:

SENATORS PAYROLL

Player Salary After NHL cut

Daniel Alfredssson $6.430 million $4.180 million

Wade Redden $4.700 million $3.290 million

Zdeno Chara $4.600 million $3.220 million

Marian Hossa $3.450 million $2.622 million

Greg de Vries $3.100 million $2.356 million

Bryan Smolinski $2.700 million $2.052 million

Chris Phillips $2.300 million $1.748 million

Martin Havlat $2.300 million $1.748 million

Dominik Hasek $2.000 million $1.592 million

Vaclav Varada $2.000 million $1.592 million

Mike Fisher $1.362 million $1.158 million

Todd White $1.300 million $1.105 million

Peter Schaefer $1.200 million $1.020 million

Jason Spezza $1.130 million $960,000

Anton Volchenkov $1.025 million $871,300

Martin Prusek $935,000 $800,000

Antoine Vermette $875,000 $800,000

Chris Neil $700,000 No change

Brian Pothier $625,000 No change

Josh Langfeld $475,000 No change

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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