The NHL is getting back to the business of putting its wounded game on the ice again.
League sources confirmed yesterday the NHL has invited the Players' Association to resume negotiations at an undisclosed location -- possibly as early as today -- to try to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.
Not only is NHL commissioner Gary Bettman trying to get a deal in place so the entry draft can still be held June 25 in Ottawa, he's also aiming to keep a disastrous situation from getting worse.
"I'm hopeful because any time you get the parties together, there always has to be hope," Canadiens owner George Gillett said. "And the fact that the commissioner asked for it and (union boss Bob) Goodenow said yes, that always gives us hope."
While discussions are returning to square one, sources say the league is still willing to offer a hard cap without a link to revenues, if the two sides get a deal in place by June 1. If there's no agreement by then, the link will be back on the table.
"The league wants something in place by June 1 so they can try to get their business in order," said a league source last night. "That means they have to get to work now, if there's any hope something is going to be done.
"My understanding is they're hoping that if they leave a deal without a link on the table, then the Players' Association will be willing to continue to negotiate. The only question is: Is there more pressure on the league or the players to get a deal done at this point? I'd say there's a lot more on the NHL if their business is going to have a chance to survive."
There have been no meetings between the two sides since NHL VP Bill Daly, flanked by owners/superstars Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, took part in a session in New York last month with the NHLPA's Ted Saskin, Trevor Linden and the union's executive committee.
At that session, talks between the two sides went backwards, with the NHL presenting an offer Goodenow termed "the worst offer they've made" during a meeting with player agents last week in Toronto.
The union has pulled its offer of a 24% rollback on all existing contracts off the table, which means the league can't count on $239 million (all terms US) in givebacks the NHLPA claimed it would provide.
The NHL and the union have to decide how a hard salary cap is going to be structured along with luxury tax and revenue sharing. Sources say they're close on entry level contracts and salary arbitration.
"I just hope whatever they do, they go away and hide and try to get things done," said Calgary agent J.P. Barry, the co-managing director of IMG Hockey. "What you hope is they can work through the bigger issues and that can lead to a deal. It's in the best interests of everybody to get a deal done. Then we'll all know there's going to be hockey next year."