Players blame Bettman

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

Skating on the frozen water near his Saskatchewan cabin gave Robyn Regehr some much-needed joy yesterday.

Most every other part of the day brought sadness and anger.

"It's a bad situation for everyone, the fans especially, the players, the owners, everyone involved in the sport," the Calgary Flames defenceman said.

"It's a sad day."

Up until the last few days, most Flames were resigned to the fact they were going to lose a season.

Still, with the way talks heated up earlier this week, hope had emerged -- only to see it washed away with news the owners and players were too far apart, philosophically or otherwise, to come up with a new collective bargaining agreement.

For that, Regehr blames commissioner Gary Bettman.

The blueliner fully believes a deal would be in place right now with someone else leading the owners' fight.

"I think it was Gary's plan all along to cancel the season if we didn't take the $30-million salary cap," Regehr said.

"I think anyone else in his place and we would have had a better chance of a solution.

"I can't believe that we're in this situation but that leads me back to what I said before. Someone else would have done a better job.

"We as a union really tried to use some creative ways to put drags on salaries and to curb a little bit of the inflation and he came back with offers that were just PR moves.

"There was the one that took the union's offer but had the four trigger points. It was one he knew we wouldn't accept and it didn't help the process. It hindered it.

"I don't know what he was thinking but I don't think he really cares about the game of hockey."

In the Czech Republic, fellow Flames defenceman Andrew Ference was lamenting a lost chance to restore the league's lustre.

"If you look at the massive changes we were willing to put forth, a lot of guys find it hard to believe it wasn't acceptable," Ference said.

"I was totally expecting this but the last couple of days gave me the most hope I've had for the last couple of years.

"It's one thing to cancel the season when you're miles apart but it's another when the steps were taken and the huge sacrifices were made to get as close as we did.

"It's shocking to not come away with something."

For that inability to seal the deal, Ference blamed Bettman.

"I know the Calgary market and a lot of fans will view the players as the culprits of the cancelled season," Ference said.

"If you do take a step back, and I don't care how you spin it, we did move a huge, huge distance in our stance.

"I'm not saying we didn't have a part in the problems but there's got to be a bridging of the gap and we did a lot of the construction. I know that."

Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter wonders how many players truly understand the league's economics.

"In terms of them understanding the whole picture," he said, "I'm sure some understand better than others but at the same time, what they understand is what they've seen the last 10 years."

Now comes the hope, however unlikely, the league will be up and running in time for the 2005-06 season.

Many people involved in the NHL have said one lost season will likely lead to two.

Players will take steps to look for jobs in Europe just in case.

Ference said he'll be one of them.

"I'm not going to sit and wait for next season, I'm going to make plans for a team in Europe next year -- contingency plans," Ference said.

"But I'll open my arms wide open to a NHL season next year.

"It is the absolute dream of mine to be playing in Calgary in the NHL and have my home right there. It's the ultimate dream.

"If the NHL and the PA can come to something, then I'll come back with the biggest smile on my face you can imagine."

Regehr, admitting both sides are back to square one, has faith.

"We need to work very hard on a solution so we can start moving forward and get hockey back on track," he said.

"That's our only solution at this point because of what's happened so far. If it doesn't, it's another very poor decision on Bettman's part."


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