TORONTO -- What next? That was the burning question yesterday after both sides in the NHL's labour dispute remained oceans apart following a rejection of each other's offers for a collective bargaining agreement during a meeting here Tuesday.
Now, with no new talks planned and the season on the brink of being cancelled if there's not a new deal in place soon, many are wondering how the NHL and the Players' Association can find some common ground.
Not only did the owners push aside the players' offer of a 24% pay cut, they proposed a 30-35% reduction from some superstars and maintained they're not going to sign a new CBA unless there's a hard salary cap.
"It's pretty clear (NHL commissioner Gary) Bettman doesn't trust the owners," said Senators centre Mike Fisher last night from Switzerland. "I would like to know what each individual owner thinks of our offer.
"After hearing some of the things that (Bettman) said, I'm just wondering if he doesn't just want the season to be cancelled so that the contracts will run out. I thought we really tried to get something done with our offer and what we got was another salary cap in return."
Neither side is planning to bring forward another offer. The players thought they went too far by offering a 24% rollback in the first place and many felt the owners' response was a slap in the face.
Along with a salary cap that ranged from $34.6-$38.6 million, the owners also sought to abolish arbitration, extend entry-level contracts by one year and give rookies no bonuses. They want no part of a luxury tax.
"The players realize this is about a salary cap and nothing but a salary cap," said Ottawa centre Todd White. "The players tried to make an offer without a salary cap that we thought could wholeheartedly work for the owners. "They came back with a hard cap. I definitely think the players are definitely 700 strong. I just think we're right back where we were on Sept. 9 and I just hope it doesn't take three months for us to speak again ... I just hope that it can speed up so that we can reach a deal."
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who spent the last few days updating his teammates on the negotiations, isn't sure what the next step will be for either side.
"We thought we made a great offer and they turned it down and put on a cap on it," said Alfredsson. "Where do we go from here? I don't know. We don't have anything planned."
Senators president Roy Mlakar, who has remained positive through this process, said he's hopeful the two sides will continue to talk.
"It's a difficult position to remain optimistic, but we certainly hope negotiations can continue," said Mlakar.