Bad blood boils over

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

The two warring lockout tribes will meet separately next week before any further attempts are made to re-start collective bargaining talks.

On the heels of the National Hockey League calling a board of governors meeting for a week today in New York, the Players' Association will gather a night earlier for a dinner in Toronto and a full-day meeting on Tuesday.

Both sides have now backed off after what one agent called "a dysfunctional negotiation since Day 1." It was capped by Saturday's huge letdown in New York when anticipation of a deal brokered by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux to "uncancel" the season blew up on Broadway.

"It's laughable, but it's really not," forward Brian Rolston of the Minnesota Wild said on the weekend. "Everybody's sick of it. At this point, just try to get something done for next season."

Commissioner Gary Bettman, who wrapped himself in the small-market flag during the course of the talks, will be on the hot seat next week, explaining why the whole year had to be sacrificed. But some bigger franchises, such as the Dallas Stars, are in his corner.

PERFECT VILLAIN

"He's a lawyer, he's a New Yorker, he's not a person of tall stature, so he makes a perfect villain," Stars owner Tom Hicks said. "So they (players) tried to vilify him. I know what he has offered. He has not been the problem."

Philadelphia Flyers chairman Ed Snider said the union shouldn't have stopped at a $49-million US cap a week ago in the last high-stakes' talks, feeling they should have put $45 million on the table in New York and held a union-wide vote.

"I can't tell you for sure what would have happened, because I don't know," Snider told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I don't think the union wanted to make a deal. To never put it on the table -- for any reason -- to me, that is flabbergasting."

NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin said Snider should be angry with Bettman, not the union.

"While I appreciate (Snider's) frustration, his anger should be directed toward those people who supposedly work for him (the league office) and should be representing his interests," Saskin told the Inquirer. "I am confident Philadelphia could have operated exceptionally well under our proposed framework, and I am sure that only compounds Ed Snider's concern over how events have unfolded."

But Bettman said the union should not have teased fans into thinking a deal was forthcoming.

The league invited the players to New York on the weekend, but Bettman told WFAN, a New York radio station, that the union created false hope of a deal at fans' expense.

"This is the thing I'm really upset and depressed about, I mean what a terrible thing they did to our fans," Bettman said. "This to me is the most horrific thing about what happened. I think this was a setup, I think it was done intentionally to try and cause the type of reaction that we saw all weekend."

The players will no doubt be grilling executive director Bob Goodenow and his executive on the controversial flip-flop of last week, when they put the cap on the table after swearing against it for years. That was on top a 24% salary rollback, neither of which budged the league to make a deal.

Calgary Flames general manager/coach Darryl Sutter said it may be time to bring in a third party again. A U.S.-appointed mediator failed to bring the two sides closer together in the past five months.


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