- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

TORONTO — The NHL Players’ Association yesterday took little time to reject the league’s latest plan to save what remains of the 2004-05 campaign as the season rolls toward cancellation, which would be a first in North American major professional sports history.

At the same time, the league selectively approved portions of the proposal the union made to management last Thursday — discarding what it didn’t like, picking and choosing what it liked and accepting those parts with modifications.

In between, the two sides traded barbs in dueling press conferences and accused each other of using phony numbers to make their case. About the only thing they agreed on was that no more meetings are scheduled with the drop-dead point rapidly approaching.

Both sides went to lengths not to say the season was wiped out, not even to predict when it would reach the point where it made no sense to even attempt to start a shortened campaign. Commissioner Gary Bettman repeated the statement he made last week, however, saying that playing hockey this season was secondary to achieving what he called the right financial fix.

The owners’ lockout started Sept.15; the season was to have started Oct.13. Ten years ago, during the last lockout, agreement was reached Jan.12, and an abbreviated 48-game season was started nine days later.

“They rejected our proposal, without engaging really in any negotiations on its terms,” said Bob Goodenow, NHLPA executive director. “The league’s presentation had two principle parts, and they spent most of their time showing us that our proposals … would not work.

“Their proposals, I would suggest to you, are wildly unreliable, using an assortment of mostly made-up numbers and a variety of different time periods. I can tell you that these projections are completely useless and phony.”

Each side had its own set of figures to back its argument and to refute the opposition’s. What both sides repeatedly came back to was the union’s offer of a 24 percent salary rollback made last Thursday.

“We accepted the principle of the 24 percent rollback — however, we restructured which players would give back and how much they would give back by proposing a graduated rollback scale,” Bettman said. He claimed with his system 92 percent of the players in the league would face a rollback of 24 percent or less, with those making more than $5million (41 players) picking up a healthy share of the tax.

Asked about the league redesigning his offer, Goodenow replied sarcastically, “They were kind enough to tell us how to restructure the rollback.”

Said Jeff Halpern, the Washington Capitals’ acting player representative: “For me, dealing with Gary Bettman is a source of frustration right now. I really think the [union] made a concerted effort to come up with a workable plan so that the owners had something to work with. For the owners to come back with a proposal that was worse than the one they made before, it’s frustration, because they refuse to look at both sides.”

Halpern said he had discussed yesterday’s developments with several teammates and “they’re pretty disgusted with what has happened. We find it hard to believe [management is] making a serious effort to save the season, and the players are really upset about it. What it shows us is that the league wants nothing to do with a season; it only wants to institute an impasse next summer.”

Goodenow maintained the league spent “very little” time on its proposal because, he claimed, it contained salary cap information and those are the two words that will turn off the union every time, as it did yesterday.

“In short, the league took what they liked from our proposal, made major changes and slapped a salary cap on top of it,” Goodenow said.

Bettman said, “There’s nothing wrong with the words ‘salary cap,’” uttering words he very seldom uses, preferring the term “cost certainty.”

The only things certain after yesterday’s 31/2-hour meeting is that there are no meetings today and no season in the foreseeable future.

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