SUN Hockey Pool

Mock the vote

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

Andrew Ference has a retort for all those people who believe the next proposal offered by the league should go to a vote among the players.

Guess again.

Even Ference, a moderate among the National Hockey League Players' Association, says the skaters wouldn't agree -- even if it was through a secret ballot -- to a salary cap.

"I see those numbers that half the guys would vote for a cap and I don't believe that, not for a moment," said the Flames defenceman yesterday from the Czech Republic. "The guys in our executive are there for a reason and they're in a very, very tough situation but we have to trust them."

Both the players and owners have barely commented on negotiations for a week now and Bill Daly, the NHL's vice-president and chief legal council, said no meetings are scheduled.

Ference, who's currently playing alongside fellow Flame Roman Turek for Budejovice of the Czech Republic's first division, is a vocal member among the players and always willing to question their direction.

Still, you can count him among those who believe a cap-based system -- cost-certainty to the NHL owners -- will bring about the some of the disadvantages in the NFL -- non-guaranteed contracts and no arbitration rights.

"The players in football, how can you not feel like a piece of meat?" Ference said. "The reason you go all-out for a team, like we did with the Flames, is because the team respects you. You're not just a piece of meat. Being treated with respect means a whole lot to an athlete."

Former all-star Denis Potvin, who now does colour commentating work for the Florida Panthers, told the MSG Network's Stan Fischler the players would accept a deal if it went to a vote. As well, TSN analyst and former NHL head coach Pierre McGuire said he figured 70% of the players would vote for a deal, even if it included cost-certainty.

Of course, should such a vote be only 10%, it would send a strong message to the owners regarding the players' resolve.

That's not to say Ference puts all the blame for the lockout, now in Day 138, on the owners.

Prior to the beginning of the dispute, he said greed from both sides would mean a lockout.

Just over a month into it, he said the head honchos -- Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow -- were "asinine" for their failure to hold sufficient discussions.

He continues to blame both sides for all that is lost.

"If anything good can come from the lockout, it would be a new deal that's good for the game. If both sides figured out that should be the goal, we'd get a resolution but it's just never going to happen," he said. "Both sides are way too firm looking for what they want but if they would decide to do what's best for the game, people wouldn't mind if it took half a year or took a full year to come to an agreement.

"Instead, both sides went into this looking to win and are still looking at winning it."

Even with hints of optimism around the league, all offset by even more pessimism, Ference fully expects to spend two more months overseas. Budejovice's regular season concludes in mid-February and the playoffs won't conclude until the end of March.

"I never really had that much anticipation of a (NHL) season just because of the attitudes from both sides right from the start," Ference said. "It's really hard to be optimistic. It was hard to be optimistic at all. If I'm ever more frustrated over anything in my life, I don't know what it'll be."

He's not alone thinking a vote amongst players would never see a cap accepted.

Former Flame Craig Conroy, who signed a free-agent contract with Los Angeles in the off-season, admits he's no hard-liner among his union brethren.

And even though he previously believed a vote would be a good idea, he now says it would be futile because the players feel the owners have tried to shove a cap down their throats instead of negotiating.

"I bet you'd get maybe 10 or 15 guys who'd say they'll take a cap, it's that strong against it," Conroy said from his off-season home in upstate New York.

"As long as there's a cap in any proposal, there'll be no vote. Guys get ideas in their heads and become headstrong.

"If they put a cap on a proposal they hand to the executive, it'll be put down right away and nobody in the union will complain about not getting a chance to vote on it."


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