Leafs not thrilled with a cap

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

If you passed Darcy Tucker on the street yesterday and he had a distant look in his eyes, there's a good reason.

The Maple Leafs winger has been adamant on more than a couple of occasions in the past few months that there's no way the NHL Players' Association would accept a salary cap. Of course, that changed in the past 36 hours, with the players union deciding to take their no-cap stance off the table as talks entered the 59th minute of the 11th hour.

"I don't know what to think, to tell you the truth," said Tucker, who didn't bother trying to hide his disappointment. "I'm just confused. One minute we're not taking a cap, and now we are. But I have full faith in the committee. We would love to be playing, but just not in that situation right now."

Few players are happy to be looking at a cap -- if a new deal is not reached today, it seems inconceivable the owners would come off their cap request in the future since the players now have said they will play under one -- when their NHL careers resume.

For Leafs defenceman Ken Klee, the cap idea became more digestible when the owners came off their insistence on linkage between a cap and revenues. Klee is another Leaf who has had issues with a cap in the past.

"I think there was a non-starter in the players' minds of a link between salary cap and revenues," Klee said. "Owners coming off that link was a big step. I wish they had done that two months ago."

The NHL last night put forth what it called a final offer to the players, one that included a $42.5-million US cap on salaries per team. Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a letter to NHLPA union boss Bob Goodenow there would be "no more flexibility" on that issue. The league responded late in the evening with an offer that reduced the cap to $49 million, among other measures.

Before the union went along with the cap idea, it had been said by veteran NHL players that they were willing to do whatever they can to make the financial aspects of the game as prosperous as possible for those who came after them.

Matt Stajan, who has been toiling for the St. John's Maple Leafs of the American Hockey League this season after a fine rookie season with Toronto in 2003-04, was trying to wrap his head around playing with a cap for the rest of his career.

"It's not what we want, but we're making a sacrifice," said Stajan, who spent the AHL all-star break this weekend in the GTA. "Players have been giving back so much."

And Stajan was right on one aspect last night -- the players' refusal to take a $42.5 million cap.

"I don't think that will get anything done," Stajan said.


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