Spring will bring no thaw in the National Hockey League labour war, after the owners delivered two unpalatable offers to the players yesterday.
A new collective bargaining agreement now seems a remote possibility before the league starts focusing on options such as replacement players, while the union executive is said to be meeting in Toronto next week to plot its own course for 2005-06.
One league offer yesterday in New York was for a $37.5-million US salary cap, while another capped player costs at 54% of league revenues. Bob Goodenow, executive director of the NHL Players Association, did not dismiss them outright, but his prepared statement had the familiar tone heard from both sides in this seven-month dispute.
"Both proposals were very similar to ones that we previously rejected several times," Goodenow said. "We will be determining our next steps and be responding at the appropriate time."
That could mean a players' counter-offer at the yet unscheduled next meeting. Sportsnet reported yesterday the union executive had scheduled three days to strategize next week, even before the New York session.
The executive will likely be talking about the replacements next week as well as employment opportunities next season in Europe and North America, such as the proposed World Hockey Association.
The 21/2-hour meeting yesterday, the second between the two sides in less than a week, was attended by Goodenow, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and their top lieutenants. The league's board of governors is scheduled to meet April 20, when the subject of replacement players and the fate of the draft will likely be covered.
In his post-meeting statement yesterday, NHL executive vice-president Bill Daly optimistically called the league's offers "two approaches for moving forward." He pointed out that the $37.5 million figure contained no linkage, the latter a concession the players had insisted upon in earlier talks. However, it's also at least $5 million to $7 million less than what the players considered remotely workable before the season was cancelled.
Daly added that the cap was "a framework" that was open to future negotiation "provided an agreement could be achieved within the next several weeks."
Members of the union's rank and file were no doubt disappointed that the owners didn't have anything more creative, or at least a higher cap figure.
"Does it scare me? Absolutely," Keith Primeau told the Team 1040 radio station in Vancouver. "There is no progress, just regressing."
Darcy Tucker of the Maple Leafs was not expecting miracles yesterday.
"It just sounds like more of the same talk from the league," Tucker told the Sun. "This whole (CBA) process has been a letdown. I really didn't expect anything from these last two meetings.
"Like I've been telling people, just let me know when it's over."