SUN Hockey Pool

More than money on line

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

Six months from now, will National Hockey League players see anything better than the owners' $42.5-million US salary cap, the figure bandied about the night before the season was cancelled?

It's a question members of the union likely have wrestled with for two weeks. Yet they emerged from a meeting yesterday convinced they had conceded enough and confident that a better deal awaits. There had been dares from owners and general managers to the union to have the $42.5-million offer put to a membership vote.

"As an older guy who might never play again, there was no way I would've voted for it if given the opportunity," Maple Leafs warhorse winger Gary Roberts said. "Everyone was just looking at the number -- $42.5 million versus (the players' proposed) $49 million -- and saying 'it's only $6.5 million off.' But when you look at the guts of the deal (relayed to the rank and file yesterday), you realized how bad it was."

There was the question of whether signing bonuses and minor-league players were to be included under the cap. And the two sides could not agree on revenue sharing, the escalation of the cap's upper limit (even if they had sawed off at $45 million, the NHL opposed any rise), the specifics of qualifying offers for free agents, salary arbitration and minimum team payrolls.

"We've put faith in our bargaining committee to come to us when they feel there's something on the table worth a vote," Roberts said.

For now, everything's off, including the owners' decision to drop the linkage between payroll and revenues.

"We're starting from scratch," Carolina Hurricanes defenceman Glen Wesley said. "But with that said, I hope there's some common ground to the (next) talks at the start, instead of everyone getting defensive on both sides.

"Taking a step back now and refocusing, from our side and theirs, is a good thing."

Bryan McCabe, the Leafs player rep, said he was glad the players didn't jump at the owners' cap limit.

"It's in the best interests of 750 guys that we wait for something that is right for everyone," McCabe said.

Brendan Shanahan of the Detroit Red Wings thought both sides must bear responsibility for the lost season, but said the players have a natural weakness the owners have tried to exploit.

"When the side you're negotiating against knows you love the game, you're at a disadvantage," Shanahan said. "A lot of owners love the game, too, but for about a half dozen of them, once the season was cancelled, it was business as usual."

Leafs defenceman Ken Klee hopes talks are restarted soon.

"It serves no one's purpose to say 'we're here and (the NHL owners) are there, and that's it, negotiations are over,' " Klee said. "We need both sides to come to an agreement, obviously, sooner than later. It has been tragic, but we need to move on, we need to turn the page."


Videos

Photos