Fletch: Don't drag it out

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

Cliff Fletcher has been involved with the NHL in various capacities since the 1950s, but he probably has not been as concerned for the future of the game as he is today. "If we go through another summer of uncertainty, there won't be any pieces to pick up next fall," Fletcher, a senior executive with the Phoenix Coyotes, said yesterday.

"If one side perceives to let this drag through the summer, they're not reading the cards right. It's in everyone's best interests that (a new collective bargaining agreement) get done."

With the NHL and NHL Players' Association now facing a wider gap than they were at just five days ago, both sides will take some time to cool off. The NHL board of governors is slated to meet March 1, and the NHLPA will gather as many members as possible, probably in March, for a meeting.

But beyond putting their heads together among themselves, it's not clear where the two sides go from this point. There are no negotiating sessions planned.

"We will update the board on the status of collective bargaining and consider the next steps," NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly said, referring to the league's governors meeting next week, in an e-mail message to The Toronto Sun last night. "No big announcements should be expected."

Imagine what it would be like to be a fly on the wall of that meeting with representatives from wealthy clubs such as Toronto, Detroit and Philadelphia in the same room as those from hardliners such as Carolina, Boston and Chicago.

Daly acknowledged the NHL thought the PA would put forth a new offer this past weekend. Still, Daly, who has been classy in this entire process, is ready for whatever comes next in this bizarre and frustrating endeavour.

"We were led to believe the union would be making a proposal to us on Saturday,"Daly said. "That didn't happen. But we will continue the process in good faith. And, ultimately, we're going to reach a deal. I can only hope that, for the good of the sport, that will happen sooner rather than later."

Although there was nothing close to an agreement Saturday in New York, one aspect appears to be clear: The NHLPA's resolve was strengthened considerably by the league's unwillingness to agree to a salary cap any higher than $42.5 million U.S. Player reps held a conference call Saturday night and their unity was not an issue.

Many have suggested that mediators, whether they come from within the NHL and PA, should be called in to help form the basis for a new deal.

One man of prominence whose has been linked to such an idea, player agent Don Meehan, is upset nothing was accomplished on the weekend but refused to comment further.

"I probably have some definite views, but before I react, I want to step back and take a breath," Meehan said.

Fletcher agrees.

"A little time off might be the proper course of action right now," he said. "The future of the NHL is hanging in the balance. I hope everybody acts responsibly when they get together again."


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