Sens see flicker of hope

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

Is it a light at the end of the tunnel, or will the NHL officially turn out the lights on Jan. 14? That's the burning question for most owners, GMs, coaches and players as the hockey world prepares to celebrate a dark Christmas -- which will be the 100th day of the NHL lockout.

While sources insist NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will never officially cancel the season so he can declare impasse down the road (read bring in replacement players), the league's board of governors aren't meeting for symbolic reasons in New York on Jan. 14.

"There's still time to get a deal done," said defenceman Curtis Leschyshyn, who played last season for the Senators. "You've got to be a little bit optimistic because there's still a light at the end of the tunnel. But it's not a lantern, it's more like a candle flickering in the wind."

PRESSURE ON UNION

The question is: Will the NHL blow out the candle? What the move does mean is Bettman and the league are trying to exert pressure on NHL Players' Association boss Bob Goodenow and the players to get back to the bargaining table.

While the owners have insisted upon a salary cap, the date of the meeting could force both sides to bring their best offers to the table before it's too late.

"This can still be saved. I'm still hopeful," said Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, who will celebrate Christmas in Sweden tomorrow with his family. "What you hope is that in the next little while both sides are able to come up with their best offers and we can find a solution.

"I know we made them a strong offer with the 24% (salary) rollback, but there are parts of our offer -- like salary arbitration (and) qualifying offers -- which we have maintained are negotiable. Maybe they can find a way to negotiate on those points to get a deal. I know it's been difficult because all we keep getting in return (from the NHL) is a salary cap."

TIME FOR REFLECTION

The NHL announced next month's meeting now because it wants players to spend time during the holiday season reflecting on what's happening or not happening.

"They have said there is no drop-dead date, so I have no idea why they're meeting, but (that) is right around the time a deal got done in 1994," said Senators centre Todd White, who will leave Boxing Day to play in Sweden.

"I'm still hopeful. If I get over there and I only play for three weeks and I have to come back so we can play here, that would be fine with me."


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