No new offers on horizon

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

As the executive committee of the National Hockey League Players' Association meets to map out strategy, there is speculation that a radical new offer might be forthcoming.

Don't count on it.

The purpose of this meeting is to disseminate information and to plan strategy, not to organize a surrender.

ASSUMPTIONS

The fans who care about this issue, a steadily dwindling number, make a number of assumptions and believe that they have a picture of the situation.

But when you are a member of the bargaining team, whether it be the league's or the player's, your approach is somewhat different.

You aren't looking at the big picture from the outside. You're on the inside and you have a view that features a unique perspective.

A fan, for instance, might see the players' Dec. 9 offer, built around a 24% salary rollback, as being a long-forgotten proposal.

To the NHLPA executive committee, it was then, and is now, the basis for a new collective bargaining agreement.

That's one reason no radical new deal will be offered by the players.

The executive committee feels that it made its big pitch to save the game back in December, when there still was time to salvage the season, and it's not about to move far from that position now.

Within the hockey community -- which doesn't include the businessmen and entrepreneurs who compose the NHL board of governors -- there is widespread agreement with the merit of that PA proposal.

"Do you know of a single general manager who doesn't agree that's a workable concept?" asked a prominent player agent yesterday.

"The GMs all know they can make money under that deal, and the governors should realize that's all they are getting."

Another view that is different when seen from the inside has to do with the cancelled season. The fans interpret that development as the result of failed negotiations.

The NHLPA's view -- which is widely supported throughout the hockey community -- is that the league at no time intended to play the 2004-05 season.

There are mountains of circumstantial evidence to that end, not to mention flat-out off-the-record admissions by NHL governors.

If that's the case, the NHL's executive committee, like its PA counterpart, must also be viewing the situation from a perspective that is not available to the casual fan.

By following its plan and shutting down for a year, the league saved itself approximately $1.3 billion US in player salaries. Granted, it also lost a lot of income.

But commissioner Gary Bettman says his league loses more than $200 million annually. Obviously, most of those losses are borne by the so-called small-market teams which are driving his strategy.

Those teams say they lose more by playing than by shutting down. So now they've saved the money from a year-long hiatus. Their GMs insist they can make a profit if the Dec. 9 concept is accepted.

Does it still make sense to continue the lockout?

It does if their intransigence gets them a hard salary cap. That would drive up the value of their teams and they could then sell them at a profit -- which was their intent in getting into the NHL in the first place.

But if the NHLPA comes out of this meeting as committed as ever to opposing a hard cap, does it make sense to continue to keep their buildings dark?

UNCERTAINTY

If the PA finishes its meetings leaving behind any hint of uncertainty about the level of commitment, then those owners may be encouraged to continue on their present course.

That's why a new offer isn't likely to be forthcoming.

It would be seen as an admission of concession.


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