- The Washington Times - Friday, December 3, 2004

An overwhelming majority of NHL players who expressed their opinion in a poll said they would not support a salary cap even if it meant saving a season that was supposed to have started Oct.13.

The poll was conducted by the Toronto-based Hockey News, a weekly publication that covers the sport extensively but specializes in the NHL, before the league accepted an invitation from the NHL Players’ Association to reopen talks next week.

The magazine’s 30 team correspondents were asked to contact players and ask if “you would consider negotiating a salary cap system if it meant saving this season?” The question assumed the cap would be at $40million per team, with contracts remaining guaranteed.

Of 114 players who expressed an opinion, 105 said they would not support a salary cap, or better than 92 percent. Nine said they would support a cap, and seven did not offer an opinion.

If the poll results are any indication, the league will not be hearing what it wants to hear at Thursday’s meeting. The owners have maintained a take-it-or-leave-it approach, demanding the union accept the principle of a salary cap before negotiations can even begin.

The union plans to offer a new proposal Monday, one that includes a stronger luxury tax with a lower spending limit and an increase on the penalties for violating the limit. It is believed the union also will propose a salary rollback of 10 percent, double its last offer; and a plan to lower the rookie salary cap to $800,000 at the high end (it is now $1.1million and climbing) and severely limit performance bonuses.

Because the union proposal does not directly link salaries to income and expenses — i.e., a salary cap — it is thought the league once again will reject the proposal in short order. If that is the case, the two days of talks later next week might be dead before they start.

The two sides have not met since Sept.9, when management quickly rejected the last union plan. Six days later the league locked players out, putting the 2004-05 season in jeopardy. The lockout is 80 days old today, and nearly one-third of the season is gone.

“Would [commissioner] Gary Bettman accept a marketplace system if it would save the season?” Dallas Stars forward Bill Guerin asked rhetorically.

Said teammate Rob DiMaio: “We feel we’re ready to compromise, but a salary cap is not a compromise.”

An unidentified Anaheim player said, “I can’t see why we can’t take a look at [the salary cap system] and try to figure something out.”

Said Atlanta Flames defenseman Garnet Exelby: “I think the problem is, if you have a cap, guys who are making their $10million … are still going to make [it]. [Management] will cut corners with everybody below that.”

Of the five Washington Capitals who were asked the question, three were against negotiating a cap, one was for it and the fifth was undecided. All asked to remain unidentified.

But veteran forward Bobby Holik of the New York Rangers left no doubt where he stood.

“It is very clear to me that the owners expect us to bear the burden alone of solving the problems they have brought on themselves by showing a lack of [fiscal] control,” he said. “We are willing to negotiate. We are willing to work with the owners to fix the problems they have identified … [but] they want to dictate. They have one solution and one solution only: They demand a cap.”

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