SUN Hockey Pool

Trigger fingered

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

The elixir that solves the NHL lockout has been found.

Sadly, it likely won't be swallowed until fall at the earliest.

We awake this morning to Day 147 of the billion-dollar fight with some faint hope the NHL's players and owners can agree on a new collective bargaining agreement.

Overall, it still looks bleak now with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spouting yesterday how this season will be cancelled if they aren't drawing up documents on a new CBA this weekend.

Nor does it look promising with NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow immediately rejecting yet another proposal with bluster.

Still, the solution they're looking for is right in front of their faces thanks to the owners' compromise, slight as it is at this point.

On the surface, yesterday's developments during a 'secret' meeting were both confusing and frustrating.

Here was Bettman and the owners saying they made a bold step, offering to get the league up and running in time for a 2004-05 campaign by using the NHLPA proposal from mid-December, which included a 24% salary rollback.

If that offer doesn't work, Bettman and company want the CBA to switch immediately to the owners' last offer, which kept the rollback and consisted of a salary floor of $32 million, a cap of $42 million, worth 55% of league revenue, and profit sharing.

On the surface, it appears the PA rejected its own proposal.

To some degree, it's true. However, delving deeper -- and it's painful to say this -- Goodenow has every reason to dismiss the offer.

There are four triggers that would result in the switchover but one likely caught the union's attention -- if the average payroll for the league's three most extravagant clubs exceeds by 33% the average payroll for the lowest three clubs.

This trigger will be reached before the first puck is dropped.

Well, gentlemen, there's your basis for negotiation.

Unless the league changes its time frame for payrolls to fall into the proposed perimeters, allegations of bad-faith negotiating are valid.

It will take a few full seasons for squads such as the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs to pare their payrolls.

Likewise, it'll take time for clubs such as Pittsburgh, Nashville and Minnesota to elevate their payrolls to acceptable levels.

In trade, should the players actually believe their system can save the league, give the luxury tax thresholds more teeth.

Something dollar for dollar at $45 million in Year 1, $42 million in Year 2 and $40 million afterwards.

Right now, there's no reason for the players to rush into any deal, since they've come to a point where they believe there's no chance for a season.

As well, with only one-third of a season's paycheques up for grabs based on a 28-game schedule, it's not much of a financial incentive to play for two months then fast forward into a full playoffs that's more lucrative for the owners.

However, such movement would prove to the fans all those claims about wanting to save the season were true and provide some much-needed goodwill towards the game's image.

Don't bank on it, though, and that's why coming to their senses won't likely happen for a few months yet.

But, with any luck, the realization of a partnership between the pair will result in revenue growth -- even on a small-scale -- akin to what the NFL has seen since its players and owners decided to go that route.


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