NHL running out of time and hope

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:45 PM ET

Curtis Leschyshyn's optimism for an NHL season has hit a Rocky Mountain low. The Senators defenceman was preparing yesterday to skate at his home outside Denver with the likes of Joe Sakic, Steve Konawalchuk, Adam Foote and Ken Klee, but the players changed their minds.

"We just didn't feel like there was any reason to bother going," Leschyshyn said yesterday. "I don't see any reason to be optimistic that they're going to salvage the season."

Leschyshyn is not alone in his pessimism that the NHL lockout will end anytime soon.

"I don't know if (the NHL owners) ever even considered playing this year," Dallas Stars winger Bill Guerin, a vice-president on the NHLPA's executive committee, told the Sun. "This is only an assumption by me, but it doesn't seem like they ever intended to play because they haven't made too much of an effort.

"As players, we've stuck our necks out. We've bent, we've bent and we've bent. If there's going to be a deal, the other side has got to do its share as well. They haven't done anything, but offer us hard caps and they know that's a non-starter for us ... I have no reason for optimism based on what's happened."

Sources say negotiations this week between NHL vice-president Bill Daly and lawyer Bob Batterman and the union's Trevor Linden, Ted Saskin and John McCambridge became testy when a hard cap was brought into the discussion at the end of the meeting.

It's believed Batterman told Linden that General Motors employees don't have a say in the product and NHL players should expect similar treatment. An incensed Linden responded: "The players are the product."

'FOOTBALL-TYPE SYSTEM'

The NHL reps also suggested that under their hard-cap concept teams such as the Toronto Maple Leafs could be forced to put players making too much money in a dispersal draft for teams with lower payrolls.

"They want a football-type system and we're not going to accept it," said Guerin.

The result? There's little reason to hope the labour dispute will soon end.

"The season's done," Red Wings vice-president Jimmy Devallano told the Detroit Free Press. "There's no chance the right deal can remotely be done in the next little while. There's too much work to be done ... It's over."

But not everybody is convinced.

"We still have 10 days to two weeks to make a deal, and hopefully the league will realize how devastating it could be for this sport if we don't play any hockey this year," said Columbus defenceman Luke Richardson. "The players understand that this could crush the sport -- especially in the United States."

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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