Oiler captain still holding out hope

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:51 AM ET

Too little, too late?

Maybe, but Edmonton Oilers' player representative Jason Smith believes developments in the last 48 hours - the NHLPA offering salary caps of $52 million US and then $49 million US, and NHL teams putting forward two proposals without linkage to revenues - makes salvaging the season possible.

Not likely, but possible.

"Is it too little, too late? We won't know until there's an announcement the season is back on or until there's one that tells us the season is cancelled," Smith said yesterday afternoon. "At least it's going in the right direction."

The NHLPA had long insisted publicly it wouldn't negotiate an agreement that included a hard or soft salary cap, but its bargaining committee came off that position in negotiations Monday.

Owners did a similar about-face, first offering a $40-million cap with a 50% luxury tax on payrolls from $34-$40 million without linkage to revenue, then making what's been deemed a final offer - a cap of $42.5 million - with a deadline for acceptance of 11 a.m. EST today.

"Obviously, both sides are making a move to get a deal done and save the season," Smith said of the NHLPA coming off its stance on the cap. "I don't think it's something that came about at the last minute.

"It's something that's been talked about and contemplated for a long time. I'm sure both sides have run through hundreds of scenarios to try to come to closure on this. What if this? What if that? It's part of the process."

With commissioner Gary Bettman having scheduled a news conference for 1 p.m. EST today, at which time he'll cancel the 2004-05 season if the latest offer isn't accepted, the sides have moved more in the last 48 hours than in the previous six months.

"That's a part of negotiating," Smith said. "You never really know what the deal is until you get there. We're not there, yet. Who knows where it's going to be when it's finished. It's an interesting time."

With today's deadline looming, Smith believes a deal can be struck.

"There's been movement from both sides. There's an opportunity," he said. "If the league thought there was no time, the (cancellation) announcement would have been made."


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