NHL, 'PA facing questions

Ten days after the last-gasp attempt to

Ten days after the last-gasp attempt to "uncancel" the season, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (left) and players union executive director Bob Goodenow will face their constituents tomorrow. (File Photos)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

Pass the mops and brooms.

In separate meetings this week, National Hockey League owners, players and agents will try and clean up debris from the crash and burn that occurred within sight of the finish line for a new labour deal -- and perhaps embark on the road to a deal.

Ten days after the last-gasp attempt to "uncancel" the season, commissioner Gary Bettman and union executive director Bob Goodenow will face their constituents en masse tomorrow. As Ricky Ricardo would say: "You've got some 'splainin' to do," though both sides are mum on agenda specifics.

"The (board of governors) meeting will deal primarily with collective bargaining, an update on status and a discussion of next steps," NHL senior vice-president Bill Daly said yesterday in an e-mail.

"The NHLPA will be holding meetings with our membership and the certified agents to update them on the recent negotiations and plans for the future," senior advisor Ted Saskin said.

Bettman and Daly have been in the CBA front lines all along, but this New York gathering provides all 30 governors and alternates (many of them general managers) a chance to hear why the league felt it couldn't close the $6.5-million US gap on the salary cap issue. In the end, Bettman chose to support a band of hawks and small-market clubs.

WAR CHEST RAIDS

Though most teams were resigned to a lost season, there likely will be some accounting of individual club losses. Franchises such as the Maple Leafs took a hit, but likely won't need to raid the league's estimated $300-million lockout war chest. Bettman has indicated some weaker teams have drawn on that account.

In terms of "next steps," the league will turn its attention to 2005-06, starting with what to do with hundreds of draft-eligible players and unsigned picks from last year, all in limbo this summer. The chance of a draft lottery likely will be floated, with Sidney Crosby the first prize, though the latter might simply sign with the highest bidder and let the courts decide.

After that thorny issue, the league can, if it chooses, sit back and let the players start sweating about another lost season. Though many experts have predicted the hiring of replacement players in September would not stand up to a legal challenge by the players, it has the potential to disrupt union solidarity.

About 100 players (more than 300 are working in Europe) are gathering in Toronto for dinner tonight and a full day of meeting tomorrow. They will want to know Goodenow's rationale in giving in on a salary cap, on top of a 24% salary rollback, and then offering to lower the cap figure from $52 million to $49 million and possibly to $45 million. If the union leadership was willing to compromise, they will ask, why couldn't this dance have been performed in the autumn, perhaps saving the season?

But those major concessions are off the table at present, along with the owners' offer to drop linkage between payroll and league revenues. Many players have been drawing unemployment cheques between $5,000 and $10,000 per month since around Christmas.

After the players meet, the agents will be addressed by Goodenow and Saskin on Wednesday, with their concerns headed by the status of junior clients and the landscape of contracts in the next CBA, already certain to be changed by some form of cap.


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