NHL players given an out

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:33 AM ET

Talks to get NHL players to play in Europe next season have heated up.

While negotiations to get a new collective bargaining agreement in place between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association will continue on Tuesday, many union members are getting calls to go overseas in August.

Though European clubs had initially insisted players sign contracts without an escape clause, many have dropped those demands because they're willing to take the risk the lockout will stretch into September.

"What I've found is that the amount of activity in Europe has really increased in the last two or three weeks," Allan Walsh of Octagon Hockey said yesterday. "I would think you're going to see guys signing there.

"(European) teams were originally trying to make these players lucrative offers to stay for the whole year by trying to get them to sign deals without escape clauses. That stipulation has been dropped and a lot of teams are offering the out-clauses now, if there's a new CBA in place."

Among Walsh's clients is Senators winger Martin Havlat, who is set to become a restricted free agent July 1. Teams in Sweden, Germany and Switzerland have already shown an interest in Havlat.

And there have calls to several other players. Although playing in Europe wasn't a positive experience for everybody, some teams have never had better attendance and they want to cash in on having NHL players.

"Obviously, a lot of the European clubs want the European players to come back and play in their home towns if the lockout continues. That only makes sense, but that's not the only interest we're getting for players," said Walsh. "I would think in the next few weeks you'll see players signing over there for next year. They want to protect themselves in case this lockout extends into next season."

CBA 'BABY STEPS'

Sources say the two sides made "baby steps" in the CBA talks this week in New York, but they remain 2-3 weeks away from tackling the bigger issue of a salary cap.

There is a belief once the two sides get down to trying to agree on a cap number that negotiations will blow up, which means commissioner Gary Bettman and union boss Bob Goodenow will walk away from the table.

Still, sources say many of the NHL's owners and players are anxious to get a deal done because they want to know the summer can be spent getting ready for next season.

GENERAL MEETING CANCELLED

The Sun, meanwhile, has learned that the NHLPA has cancelled a general meeting of all 700-plus players set for May 24 in Toronto.

No reason was given, but sources say it may have been because of a lack of interest shown by the players -- who were informed of the cancellation in an e-mail from the union late last night.

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


Videos

Photos