SUN Hockey Pool

Players 'sickened' by end result

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

NHL players started picking up the pieces yesterday.

With the initial shock -- and sense of betrayal -- of having the season cancelled beginning to wear off, they were left to try and figure out what's next in their labour wrangling with the NHL.

The NHLPA is expected to hold meetings next month -- after seasons in Europe are over -- to give players a better understanding of why what looked like a sure deal with the league fell apart.

On the betrayal front, sources say the healing process started with Blues star Chris Pronger apologizing on the players' website -- The Source -- for calling NHL VP Bill Daly directly to see what it would take to get a deal done.

It's believed Pronger, who was being ripped on the site along with Calgary's Jarome Iginla and Philly's Jeremy Roenick and Robert Esche, told players that his efforts were blown "out of proportion."

And Pronger denied he tried to pressure NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow and the executive committee to accept a salary cap. Pronger said the negotiators "have his full support."

As far as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman goes, there's talk even if the players had moved closer to Bettman's $42.5-million (all terms US) threshold -- say $45 million from $49 million -- that the league wouldn't have budged a cent.

"I am sickened by what's happened here," Senators centre Bryan Smolinski said yesterday from his Detroit home. "We moved so much closer together on the main issue and you thought that would be enough to get a deal done. I don't know what it would take for Gary Bettman to allow us to come back."

OVERSEAS FOR SEASON

For players in Europe it's terribly frustrating. A little more than 48 hours ago, many of them were making plans to return to North America. Now they've re-signed themselves to the fact they're overseas for the rest of the season.

"We were always told that we had to be prepared not to have a season, (but) that doesn't make this any easier," said Senators centre Mike Fisher, who is playing in Switzerland.

"I was just thinking about the fact that there's not going to be a Stanley Cup presented this year and the fact that I thought we had a really good chance to win it. Everybody was excited in Ottawa about what was happening.

'WE WERE EXCITED'

"We have the new coach with Bryan (Murray) and we've got a new goalie with (Dominik Hasek). We were excited. I thought with all the guys we've got playing right now that we'd just be fine if the season started."

So with nothing to get started now, players are left to wonder how things will ever be worked out in time for a season to start in the fall.

"Even listening to all of Bettman's rhetoric and (B.S.) in that press conference I thought he made it pretty clear that we're going to have hockey next year," said Smolinski.

"Don't ask me how that's going to happen."


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