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Rumors swirl that NHL season could still be saved

| Friday, Feb. 18, 2005

The NHL season was officially canceled on Wednesday afternoon, but the big rumor on Thursday was that maybe being canceled doesn't have to mean that it's over.

That maybe the players are pushing to get everyone back to the bargaining table, that maybe the NHL's final offer isn't off the table as they said it was and that perhaps there's still time to negotiate a salary cap number and start playing this year.

The Hockey News cited an anonymous source who said that even Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky got involved by trying speaking to the NHLPA executive committee.

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik heard it all yesterday, too, but as of 9 p.m. yesterday he hadn't heard anything to make him believe the rumors were true.

"I don't think it's much," he said. "I think it's just (NHL commissioner Gary) Bettman and the owners trying to stir things up a little. I think they saw what they thought were some cracks (in the union)."

Lemieux did get involved several weeks ago by going to Toronto to meet with Toronto Maple Leafs forward and friend Tie Domi and the Leafs' owner.

"As of late, I've chosen to not get involved," he said at Wednesday's press conference at Mellon Arena.

Gretzky stayed out of the picture until Wednesday when he started speaking to the media.

"To say Mario and I had a conversation to stir up the conversations and talks again, that's just not true," he told The Fan 590 radio station in Toronto yesterday.

NHL chief legal office Bill Daly said the two sides haven't spoken since trading final offers and rejections roughly 13 hours before Bettman canceled the season. Other unnamed sources in The Hockey News story said that Daly has told the union not to contact him until they have a deal.

"We have heard a lot of the rumors that are out there, but we have had absolutely no contact with the union since (union head Bob Goodenow's)final letter," Daly told the Associated Press. "Unless or until we hear from the union, the rumors are meaningless."

Orpik said he doesn't think it would be a good idea to play this year, and he thinks the rumors flying now are even more embarrassing for the game than actually canceling the season.

"My gut feeling when it's all said and done, this speculation, it's just going to be even worse for the game," he said. "You've already crushed fans' hopes for the season and now you're opening it back up and expose it to crush it again."

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