SUN Hockey Pool

Ominous signs for NHL

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

The NHL and NHL Players' Association met for four hours yesterday in New York but in an ominous sign, no further talks are planned.

Furthermore, the word out of the Big Apple late last night was that no progress was made in the second meeting in as many days. So, even if math was not your thing in school, it's fairly simple to conclude that no progress + no talks planned = no hope for a season.

"We continue to have significant philosophical differences," NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin said in a release. "No meetings are scheduled and we will not make further comment at this time."

Speculation was rampant that the NHL tabled concepts that included a salary cap of $42 million US per team, with a minimum spending amount in the range of $30-$32 million. Additionally, team payrolls would be linked to revenues at approximately 54%. There reportedly was no luxury tax involved.

Nobody should be surprised that the players scoffed at anything that included a hard cap. They have been stressing for months that there is no way they would accept a salary cap in a new agreement.

In an email to The Associated Press, NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly said the league would "continue to keep quiet on the status and substance of negotiations."

The meeting yesterday began at 4:30 p.m., and ended at 8:30 p.m. Had there been anything for the sides to agree on, talks would have gone on well into the night. There had been no progress made in a meeting in Toronto on Wednesday.

Pessimism remains the common thread in the NHLPA.

Players have been told for years by union boss Bob Goodenow to be prepared for a long work stoppage.

"I have about the same amount of optimism that I had before (which was not much)," Maple Leafs player rep Bryan McCabe said before last night's meetings ended. "It's getting late and there is a long way to go."

Chicago Blackhawks forward Matthew Barnaby was more succinct.

"Let's put it this way: It would be a shock to me if we played hockey this year," Barnaby told Sun Media.

"I hope we play, but I would say we're not going to see the NHL back on the ice until December or January, 2006 at the earliest.

"I don't blame anybody for what's happening right now. Both guys (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Goodenow) have their positions, I just think Gary Bettman could be the one fired out of all this because he made promises to some owners he was going to get a salary cap."

Daly, New Jersey Devils executive Lou Lamoriello, NHL board of governors chairman Harley Hotchkiss and outside counsel Bob Batterman represented the NHL at the meetings in New York and Toronto; Saskin, NHLPA president Trevor Linden and outside counsel John McCambridge represented the players.

The NHL, already trailing the other three major leagues in the U.S. in popularity by a wide margin, will be the first of the major sports to lose an entire season because of a labour dispute if this one is cancelled in the coming days.

To date, 721 of the NHL's 1,230 games this season have been wiped out, as has the all-star game.

Both sides are entrenched in their beliefs, and all that may be left is an announcement by Bettman that the season is dead.

It's difficult to see how anything can be salvaged, since, in Saskin's words, there continues to be a significant difference in philosophy.


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