SUN Hockey Pool

NHL calls for new talks

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Is it a move to save face or to save the season?

That's the question being asked by the NHL Players' Association, after president Trevor Linden confirmed yesterday that the union had accepted an invitation from NHL VP Bill Daly for a new round of collective bargaining talks.

But to suggest the players are optimistic going into the session, which will be held tomorrow in Toronto, would be untrue. However, the league will come armed with a new offer, even though NHL boss Gary Bettman and union bigwig Bob Goodenow won't be on hand.

The question is: Will the NHL's offer bridge the gap between the two sides and save the season?

"I would be very surprised if we were able to get an agreement," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, a VP on the NHLPA's executive committee, told the Sun last night from his Goteborg, Sweden home.

"I don't know what's going to happen because I haven't really talked to anybody, but based on the conversations last week, I'm not sure that they're going to be willing to move off their salary cap. We're not going to accept a hard cap, but it's good we're talking."

The word is the league might bring an offer to the table which will try to entice the union to have a vote among the 700 players. But, sources say, the NHLPA executive committee has been given carte blanche to make decisions.

PR STUNT?

A source said the league might be forced to make another offer in order to declare an impasse in September, as the NHL must show it made every attempt to save the 2004-05 season in the eyes of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board.

Some players were saying privately yesterday that this move by the league is nothing more than an attempt to win the public-relations battle as the clock ticks down on the season.

"I don't want to say much because I don't want to do anything that is going to be detrimental to the process," Linden told the Sun from Vancouver. "Am I surprised that we're having a meeting? No, we had two days of dialogue.

"We're going to talk. That's always a good thing, but we'll see what happens. They haven't cancelled the season yet, so I'm not going to give up. We're always willing to talk. Obviously, we're going to (need) something come together quickly (to save the season)."

The players know that if there's no deal this week there won't be a season. Bettman won't announce a drop-dead date, but the chances of playing a legitimate schedule shrinks daily.

FISHER SURPRISED

"It's the last week of January. You know there's not much time left for a season," Senators centre Mike Fisher said from Switzerland. "If something is going to happen here, you know it's got to happen fast.

"I'm glad they're meeting. To tell you the truth, I thought it was over after hearing Trevor Linden's message to us following the last meeting. It just didn't sound like there was much chance of having a year. I don't think the chances are very good, but we'll see."


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