The 2004-05 NHL campaign is on the brink of being wiped out.
While league officials are not prepared to make an official announcement regarding the potential cancellation of the season, NHL executive vice-president Bill Daly yesterday suggested that the clock has pretty much struck midnight.
"We're at the end time-wise in terms of being able to continue this process and still play games this season, so there's not a lot of room flexibility-wise," Daly said.
762 GAMES CANCELLED
The lockout reached its 140th day yesterday, and has forced the cancellation of 762 of the 1,230 regular-season games. Given the fact that it is early February and that more than 300 NHL players are competing in Europe, the time restraints certainly make the season seem lost.
The lone glimmer of hope rests with a meeting today in New York featuring NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and players union head Bob Goodenow. The two men have not taken part in face-to-face discussions in almost two months.
But as long as the league continues to insist on a salary-cap structure as part of a new collective bargaining agreement, don't expect to see NHL hockey again until at least the fall.
From the moment the lockout began 19 weeks ago, the players have rejected any proposals involving cost certainty. It was the same story yesterday as the owners' latest offer was greeted with a definitive thumbs down by the union during a meeting in Newark, N.J.
Asked if the league's proposal featured more bells and whistles than actual substance, NHL players association senior director Ted Saskin came up with the following analogy.
"Do you want to buy a house in a swamp and then hang some nice curtains on it?" Saskin said. "Well, the salary cap is the swamp."
"It's better to be optimistic than pessimistic," Saskin said. "But there is nothing in their approach of the past few years that leaves me optimistic."
The inclusion of Goodenow and Bettman was made at the union's request. Goodenow, Saskin and an outside counsel will represent the players; Bettman, Daly and an outside counsel will speak for the league.
"I would hope that as an outcome of (today) we will continue talks on a continual basis," Daly said. "I am concerned in any prolonged gap in the negotiations at this point."
Don't bet on a resolution, however.
OFFER TO COME BACK?
In fact, rather than submit a counter-proposal to the owners today, there is speculation that Goodenow will instead reintroduce the players' offer of Dec. 9, one that included a 24% across-the-board rollback in player salaries. It is believed that Goodenow will attempt to explain to Bettman and Co. how such a system would address the league's concerns.
But if the league rejected that same proposal seven weeks ago, why would it go for it now?
"Sure they might be meeting again (today) but they still have a lot of ground to cover," Maple Leafs' player rep Bryan McCabe said last night from his Long Island home.