NHL's demands 'pointless'

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

The mediators couldn't find a solution. The lower-level meetings couldn't find a solution. And it appears that the final, last-ditch face-to-face meetings couldn't find a solution.

"It was a pointless meeting," admitted National Hockey League vice-president Bill Daly last night.

Not only that, there was more unpleasantness than usual, or, as Daly put it, "There was a higher level of agitation than there had been in some of our recent meetings."

Essentially, Daly offered nothing but doom and gloom wrapped up in an atmosphere of pessimism.

Although Daly has been the one occasionally trying to put a brighter face on the proceedings, even he was at a loss to find a silver lining yesterday.

NO OPTIMISM

He acknowledged that the cancellation of the season is only days away and said, "There certainly is no expectation or optimism on this side that anything will happen before that announcement is made."

None of this should really come as a surprise to anyone. These negotiations have been going on, as Daly pointed out yesterday, for more than six years now.

For that entire time, the NHL Players' Association has been saying that it will not accept a salary cap.

More than five years ago, in Dallas, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, "I assure you when the times comes, and we need a new collective bargaining agreement, we will have a system that is sensible and will enable all our clubs to be competitive."

He also said, "I believe we have to have a league, long-term, where all teams are competitive and all teams can at least break even, if not make a profit."

The NHLPA's Dec. 9 proposal provided that system.

But by then, Bettman had moved the goal posts. Now he would no longer accept a system that was "sensible". Now it had to be foolproof.

Now, it was no longer good enough to have a system where teams "can" make a profit. Now, it had to be a system where teams "must" make a profit.

But still, the PA kept saying what it had said all along. Even Daly knows their stance. As he said yesterday, "The union is never, ever, ever, ever under any circumstances, prepared to play under any kind of cost-certain economic partnership, salary cap -- you pick the term -- and as long as that continues to be their position, it's going to be difficult for us to resolve."

It wouldn't be that difficult to resolve if Bettman was willing to accept what he originally said he wanted. In the early stages of these negotiations, he steadfastly refused to use the term "salary cap" and chastised those who did.

TERMINATION

But as the termination of the collective bargaining agreement crept closer, and Bettman's expansion teams came into the fold, and new owners had to be found to prop up franchises, suddenly a "sensible" system was no longer good enough.

Now it had to be a salary cap.

Perhaps he thought that the NHLPA might change its stance, just the way he had. But it hasn't. And there's no indication that it will.

Maybe, somewhere far down the road, the PA will have to give in. Perhaps it will finally say, "Okay Gary, you've got your salary cap."

But by then, what will Bettman have attained? He will have ruined the future of the league's strong franchises and cost the competent owners hundreds of millions of dollars of profit. And for what? To make the world safe for the idiot owners in the group, the ones for whom a "sensible" system is not good enough.

"We can't play hockey this season if an agreement isn't reached immediately," Daly said yesterday.

The players aren't moving. So unless the league makes a shift in a hurry, the season is over.


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