SUN Hockey Pool

NHL talks fail

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 4:30 PM ET


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It was the great disappointment. And, sources say, Wayne Gretzky is incensed about it. While optimism reigned yesterday when Gretzky and Pittsburgh owner/captain Mario Lemieux became involved in the latest last-ditch attempt to save the NHL season, sources say owners and players refused to budge from their previous negotiating positions.

And so, the 2004-05 season is off again -- this time, for good.

"The season was over on Wednesday and it's certainly not going to be resurrected after (yesterday)," NHL Players' Association senior director Ted Saskin said. "It's 100% certain coming out of (yesterday's) meeting that nothing could impact the cancellation of the season."

Indications were Gretzky had told associates the two sides had agreed on a $45-million (all terms US) salary cap before the session. It was believed the players' and owners' representatives would only need to work through the rest of the deal.

But sources say league officials walked into yesterday's meeting -- held in a secret New York location -- and offered a $42.5-million cap with changes that made the deal worse than the one the players would have accepted if they'd agreed to a deal last Tuesday night.

Commissioner Gary Bettman called off the season the next day. But when Gretzky and Lemieux got involved in restarting talks, it appeared there was a second chance.

Turns out there was no chance, and the Great One was not amused.

"My understanding is Gretzky is furious," said a league source last night. "He didn't go there to fail. He wanted to be playing."

"I think that both sides, mutually, tried to bargain in good faith and had extensive talks (yesterday)," Gretzky told TSN. "Unfortunately, we couldn't come to an understanding. But, as I said at the end of talks ... from the outside point of view, it looked like we made some strides, even though we're still apart. Both Mario and I encouraged both sides to keep talking."

The season ran out of lives after the two sides met for more than six hours in New York, with no progress.

"Apparently, the NHL didn't move away from their last position to meet us in any way, so one can only wonder why they called us for a meeting," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, a VP on the NHLPA's executive committee."I was hoping for a deal, of course, but I'm not feeling disappointed. I would have been surprised if they managed to get a deal."

NHL VP Bill Daly said there were too many differences for the two sides to get back to playing this season and suggested the focus should now shift to next season.

In a memo to the league's 30 team owners obtained by The Canadian Press, Bettman said "the union is still intent on negotiating for more than we can afford. They put nothing new and concrete on the table."

'SHOCKED'

Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, speaking from Sweden, admitted "I'm shocked. I don't know what to say. This is really tough to take right now. We were making plans to come home and we were looking forward to getting going.

"I just think everybody thought with (Gretzky and Lemieux) in the room, they could something done. There was just so much optimism. To have this happen is hard because we all wanted to get back playing."

However, sources say hardline owners in Carolina, Chicago, Boston, Florida and Nashville refused to allow Bettman to move off his "final" offer of $42.5 million that preceded Wednesday's shutdown.

"My feeling is there a lot of hardline owners who are ruining it for the rest of the owners in the league," said Senators centre Mike Fisher from Switzerland.

Senators winger Bryan Smolinski was in shock.

"I just find this unbelievable," he said. "It's almost comical when you think about it. We were sitting around (Friday) thinking we were going to get back to playing and then they make no progress.

"That's just unreal."

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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