Yashin precedent eyed

LANCE HORNBY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

The National Hockey League Players' Association, headed to defeat on the collective bargaining front, could make one final stand to have last season's contracts included in a new deal.

Already swallowing a salary cap and a 24% salary rollback, the union is believed to be digging on having stagnant 2004-05 contracts honoured for the coming season. It means the expected 300 to 400 free agents coming on the market would be drastically reduced.

"That's the issue they're arguing over the most at the moment," a league source told The Ottawa Sun on Sunday as the CBA talks resumed yesterday. "(Owners) don't feel they should have to honour those contracts (during the lockout)."

The players would appear to have little hope -- one executive told The Toronto Sun yesterday there's no way the owners would allow the union such a costly face-saving ploy. But free agent goaltender Sean Burke said the players should get a big bone tossed their way after accepting the cap and rollback.

"We didn't strike, we were locked out," Burke said yesterday. "I've often thought the owners set this all up to burn a season and create lots of free agents. That's not what I call negotiating fairly. I hope the PA (executive) fights for it, but I'm not optimistic they'll win."

There could be a loophole, however, going back to 1999-2000 when the league forced Alexei Yashin to fulfill the year of his contract to the Ottawa Senators he missed by sitting out in a contract dispute. To the players, restoring last year's contracts is applying the same argument, but the matter could also end up going to arbitration or perhaps even the courts.

"I think it will be up to a player to challenge it," player agent Anton Thun of M5 Sports said. "Unions and management can negotiate certain items, but like the guy working at Ford, there are some things an individual would not want collectively bargained out from under his feet."

Thun's clients include Maple Leafs defenceman Ken Klee and forward Mike Ricci of the Phoenix Coyotes. Each signed multi-year deals in 2004.

"You have to know soon if their deals are starting this year or are we already in the second year," Thun said. "This is really something that will impact every player in the league."

If contracts are honoured, there won't be the anticipated glut of unrestricted free agents whose deals would have expired this week.

Leafs such as Gary Roberts and Tie Domi wouldn't have to fret if they can re-sign here under a cap that will likely come in between $22 million and $35 million US per team.

"It's great if we could all get paid, but at this point there's been too much progress in the talks (to go backward)," Minnesota Wild goalie Dwayne Roloson said.

Many of the 30 GMs are ready to downsize their 2005-06 payroll through the cap and one-time buyouts. They didn't expect a segment of the '04-05 group to be on their books.

"I hope we can work with the players on whatever deal is made," Dallas Stars GM Doug Armstrong said. "We're getting a feel for the new CBA as little bits of information come out. We're finding out how we can build a team."

Sources also told The Ottawa Sun the two sides have agreed to raise the minimum annual salary to $400,000 for new contracts from $175,000.


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