Hanging by a thread

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has a glum look as he addresses the media following a meeting in...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has a glum look as he addresses the media following a meeting in Toronto yesterday. The players rejected a league offer and if no deal is in the works by the weekend the season is over. (Toronto Sun/Fred Thornhill)

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

The NHL season is officially on life support. And the plug could be pulled this weekend.

In a desperate attempt to save the 2004-05 season, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman visited Toronto yesterday to make a compromise proposal that was quickly rejected by NHL Players' Association boss Bob Goodenow.

With a plan to hold a 28-game season if a deal can be reached, Bettman offered the NHLPA the chance to implement its Dec. 9 proposal -- one that included a 24% rollback and luxury tax. But if the union's system failed based on any of four "trigger points" -- which the NHL suspects it will -- then a hard salary cap would be put in place immediately.

If there's no progress by the weekend, Bettman said he will officially cancel the season.

"I'm skeptical about whether it would work and I didn't tell any of the owners I was going to make this offer. But in an effort to get the season going, I thought I would see if this would work," said Bettman last night.

"I was looking for a way to bridge the gap and it didn't work. It's frustrating. It's regrettable and it's a tragedy. We want to have a season. We were trying to find a way to look for common ground and we haven't found any. I spoke with one owner and he told me that he thought this was a very generous offer. I'm not sure if he was chastising me or not."

Goodenow said the deal made no sense because it likely would have allowed the owners to get the three-tiered salary cap scenario they offered during a meeting last week in New York.

"The proposal, with the (four) trigger points, was a way to revert back to their Feb. 2 triple-cap proposal," said Goodenow. "It was obvious one of those trigger points was going to kick in immediately. We forecast over three teams would be over the $42-million area. It was a transparent proposal."

Asked if he thought the move by the owners was for public relation purposes, union VP Bill Guerin told the Sun from Dallas: "Yes ... and I'm not going to say anything more than that. I wish I could, but I can't."

The two sides did agree on one thing -- to continue discussions last night and today -- but there's still no reason for optimism.

"It would be very daunting (to try to save the season)," said Goodenow.

Bettman said the players need to realize the owners are serious about getting a system that works for the long term.

"There have been a lot of suggestions that we have been unwilling to make a compromise," said Bettman. "What we've made clear is that we're not willing to pay out money that we cannot afford to pay. One thing I admire about our players is they're willing to lose more than $1 billion in revenues and the season to not accept a system. I don't understand it, but in some way I admire it."

Some players remain optimistic.

"Until it's officially cancelled, I still think there's a 50/50 chance," Senators goalie Dominik Hasek said. "I don't know how anything is going to get done, but I just think there could be something at the last minute to make something happen.

"I still feel that both sides have something that they can give. I fully support our (executive) committee, but I still feel both sides have something to give to get a deal done."

TRIGGER POINTS

The NHL proposed a deal yesterday that would start with the NHLPA's Dec. 9 offer, which featured a 24% salary rollback and luxury tax. But it would switch over to the NHL's cap-based Feb. 2 offer, if triggered by any of the following:

- If the league pays out more than 55% of its revenues in salaries.

- If any three teams have a payroll of more than $42 million US.

- If the average payroll of the three highest-spending teams is more than 33% higher than the average of the three lowest spending teams.

- If average team compensation exceeds $36.5 million.


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