Trevor Linden has no doubt the NHL Players' Association offer of a $49-million US salary cap would have been happily accepted by many NHL clubs.
But when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman refused to concede to that figure, instead putting forth a final offer of $42.5 million, hope for a new agreement evaporated.
"I think it's unfortunate Gary surrounded himself with people who did not want to play, and his lawyer group in New York," Linden, the president of the NHLPA, said following Bob Goodenow's address to the media in Toronto.
"I think it was the deal-breaker. We made exceptional strides. It's amazing to think that we presented a cap, and a 24% rollback, and Gary told us both were inflationary.
"It's frustrating. This is the first time we have been on kind of the same track (with a drop of linkage and a tabling of a cap) and now the pieces have broken apart."
Goodenow had most of his lieutenants on hand, including NHLPA executive committee members Linden, vice-presidents Bill Guerin, Vincent Damphousse, Trent Klatt and Bob Boughner. Vice-presidents Daniel Alfredsson and Arturs Irbe were absent. NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin, director of business relations Mike Gartner and associate counsel Ian Pulver also were at the news conference.
Linden, who spearheaded meetings between the NHLPA and NHL last month, found the process of negotiating to be revealing. It seemed clear to him that teams such as his Vancouver Canucks and the Maple Leafs, among others, would have jumped on a $49-million cap had they been able to do so.
"When you talk about last year and payrolls were $80 (million), $70 (million), $60 (million), we proposed to bring it to $49 (million), tops," Linden said.
"I'm shocked. But you know what? Gary can answer to his people."
Linden figured that one result of the next round of negotiations is the players have to be on a more equal level with the league. If, for example, there are rule changes to be implemented, the players have to have a voice.
"Gary mentioned (yesterday) that he had a bunch of rule changes that he was going to institute," Linden said. "Thanks. It would be nice for the players to be involved in that, but that would be a partnership and that's something we have never had. The fact he was asking for a partnership with a gun to our head was very unfortunate."
Linden, who realizes he may well have played his last NHL game and called the damage caused by a cancelled season "immeasurable," didn't hold a grudge against NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly.
"I certainly appreciate Bill Daly's efforts," Linden said. "I know how hard he was working and I knew there were some clubs out there that were working hard, but it was Gary's decision and he made it."