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Penguins

Focus turns to next year for NHL

| Sunday, Feb. 20, 2005

Call it the NHL version of Chinese water torture.

Amid widespread reports continuing into Saturday afternoon that a deal between the league and the union was imminent and that the NHL season could be "un-canceled," a 6 1/2 hour meeting between the two sides on Saturday in New York yielded no resolution.

And so it appears that any possibility of resurrecting the 2004-05 season is out the window.

"The season was cancelled on Wednesday, and it's certainly not going to be resurrected after today," NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin said afterward. "It's 100 percent certain coming out of (Saturday's) meeting that nothing could impact the cancellation of the season."

There are no future meetings scheduled.

Penguins owner/player Mario Lemieux and Phoenix Coyotes managing partner Wayne Gretzky joined the meeting Saturday representing the league but at the request of the union. Neither had been involved in negotiations before, and their presence was viewed as a highly positive sign.

In fact, many sources credited them for getting talks under way again.

They were joined on the NHL side by chief legal officer Bill Daly and outside counsel Bob Batterman. Representing the union were senior director Ted Saskin, president and Vancouver Canucks forward Trevor Linden, executive committee member and Colorado Avalanche forward Vincent Damphousse, director of business relations Mike Gartner and outside counsel John McCambridge.

NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman were not present.

As the NHL elaborated on the details of its final proposal of a $42.5 million salary cap, any hope from the union's side for reaching an agreement dwindled away.

"It became apparent as we got into the meeting that the parties were in fact much farther apart than anyone thought they were on Tuesday," Saskin said.

The league initiated the meeting when Daly called Linden on Thursday night. He said that after a conference call with Saskin, Goodenow and the executive committee, they accepted the invitation on Friday.

The two sides were $6.5 million apart, per team, per year of a six-year deal, when negotiations ended late Tuesday. After Bettman canceled the season, several players said they believed they would have accepted a cap of $45 million had it been offered, and Bettman said during a radio interview Thursday that he, too, would have considered a salary cap of $45 million if it had been offered.

But no new proposals were made by either side Saturday.

"I know (Saturday) was not good," Linden said. "The process continues certainly but from both sides this is not a good situation."

The attention now turns to next year.

"I hope all parties continue talking and come to a solution for the betterment of the game," Lemieux said afterward. "I certainly appreciate the work Gary and Bill have done a lot more, now that I have been part of one of these sessions."

Daly said in a statement that the league will continue to negotiate.

"The talks were cordial and informative, but revealed that there remain significant differences that need to be discussed and resolved by the parties," he said. "While no new meetings are scheduled, we remain committed to continue working through the process until a new agreement can be reached."

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