Union puts a new twist

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

There could be an 11th-hour breakthrough in negotiations to save the NHL season.

A league source told the Sun last night that talks to get a new collective bargaining agreement in place took a major turn yesterday in Chicago when the NHL Players' Association introduced the possibility of a six-year agreement, which would include a salary cap under certain circumstances.

Neither NHL commissioner Gary Bettman nor NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow attended the five-hour session yesterday, and they aren't expected to attend today's session -- which will be held in Toronto.

'GUARDED OPTIMISM'

The players had "guarded optimism" about the way the discussions went yesterday. But the source warned their latest proposal might still fall apart.

"This could all still blow up and nothing could come of this," the source said.

Under the deal being discussed by the two sides, the NHLPA has asked the league to accept an agreement without a salary cap for the first three seasons. If it doesn't work, the source said, the league would be allowed to implement a cap in the final three years.

But if the NHLPA's proposal allows each team to have cost certainty and make money, the source said there would be no cap. The source added that the league was willing to discuss the idea, but wasn't sure if it was going to be enough to allow NHL hockey to be played this season.

"(Flames part-owner) Harley Hotchkiss told (NHLPA president) Trevor Linden after (yesterday's meeting) was over that he thought they made some progress on several grounds," Flyers player rep Robert Esche, who was briefed last night by Linden, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "No one is going away pessimistic or overly optimistic, but the good thing is, we're talking again."

Today's session will likely include NHL VP Bill Daly and lawyer Bob Batterman, along with Linden, senior director Ted Saskin and lawyer John McCambridge.

The group will be without Hotchkiss today. He is expected to attend the Calgary funeral of J.R. "Bud" McCaig, the part-owner of the Flames who died last Tuesday.

Saskin also had much more on his mind than the lockout. His mother died yesterday morning.

That's likely the chief reason for shifting talks to Toronto, where Saskin lives.

'MADE SOME HEADWAY'

Esche said Linden didn't talk specifics about the meeting, but told him, "We made some headway. That's good."

And true to his word, Linden wouldn't discuss "specifics."

"I'm not going to characterize the meeting," said Linden. "There was dialogue and communication, and that's what I set out to accomplish."

Sources say the players and agents put pressure on the union to get back to the negotiating table with the league before the season goes down the tubes.

"I've always felt that this is an issue that could be settled quite readily if both parties are inclined to do so," Ottawa lawyer and NHL agent Larry Kelly said last night from Vancouver. "The fact that they've decided to meet again (today) is obviously a good sign that they may have made some progress. We'll see, but let's hope."

In a statement, Daly said: "We appreciate the initiative Trevor Linden took in arranging this meeting. The parties had good, candid dialogue, and we intend to talk again."


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