Extra session: NHL, union to meet today

Restarted talks could revive canceled season

February 19, 2005|By Michael Russo | Michael Russo,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - In what could culminate one of the most bizarre about-faces in the history of professional sports, there's still a chance NHL commissioner Gary Bettman could soon call a news conference, stand behind a podium and blurt out, "Just kidding!"

The NHL players association confirmed last night that representatives would be in New York today to meet with the NHL, which requested the meeting Thursday night.

Multiple sources said last night that the NHLPA, after receiving immense pressure from several of its influential constituents, planned to present various proposals and concepts in hopes of saving a season that was thought to be "officially" canceled Wednesday.

The Hockey News has reported the sides have already agreed to a deal in principle for a new collective-bargaining agreement with a $45 million salary cap. But union spokesman Johnathon Weatherdon told The Sporting News that, "the report is absolutely false."

"If something doesn't get done, I'd be very, very shocked," St. Louis Blues center Mike Sillinger said from his Phoenix home. "To cancel the season and now to get back together, I find it hard to believe good things won't come from this because it would be a mockery."

In an e-mail last night, NHL executive vice president Bill Daly said he was "behind closed doors all day in meetings," but declined to comment further. On Thursday, Daly was asked in an e-mail if the season could be "uncanceled."

Daly replied: "I'm not prepared to rule out anything at this point in time."

Sources say NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin arrived in New York last night with the union's executive committee, led by Vancouver Canucks forward Trevor Linden and Dallas Stars forward Bill Guerin, and a few player reps. It was unclear whether NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow would be involved in talks.

Bettman, Daly and at least three owners - the Phoenix Coyotes' Wayne Gretzky, the Pittsburgh Penguins' Mario Lemieux and the Calgary Flames' Harley Hotchkiss - will represent the NHL.

According to sources, Gretzky and Lemieux, a pair of Hall of Famers with much influence among players, masterminded the splinter of prominent players who put pressure on Goodenow to get a deal done. At the same time, Gretzky and Lemieux worked on specific owners to determine what could be done to save the season.

The league canceled the season after its $42.5 million cap was countered with a $49 million cap by the union.

"I don't think anybody ever believed the season would be canceled until it really happened," Sillinger said. "I know, I was in disbelief. I think everybody had a day to reflect and realized our game's in jeopardy. We were so close, we had to try again."

The NHLPA is expected to present three concepts, sources say. One would start with a $43 million salary cap and increase over the course of the agreement to $45.75 million. The second and third proposals are caps with stiff luxury tax rates. One is said to be a $46 million cap with a $1 luxury tax on every $1 spent over $42 million.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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