Deadline Set at Secret Meeting

The National Hockey League and the NHL Players' Association met for a late dinner Wednesday evening as the league offered what it called its "best shot" at saving the 2005 season.

The league also set a deadline for a deal to be reached. If a new collective bargaining agreement is not in the works by the end of the weekend, the season will be cancelled.

The NHLPA rejected the league's offer and executive director Bob Goodenow was not optimistic.

"The likelihood that we would be able to conclude an agreement by the end of the weekend? Very daunting."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman warned the Players' Association that they will not get a better offer from the league.

"I think there will be a tremendous amount of damage, the amount of revenues will obviously decline if we don't play this season and therefore whatever the players would expect going forward is going to be diminished.

"The deal can only get worse, from a technical matter and as an economic matter, the longer we go without a new deal. That's not a threat, that's simply the reality of where we find ourselves."

The league's proposal accepts the terms of the PA's December 9th offer - centered around a 24% salary rollback - but adds conditions upon which the CBA would switch to the league's February 2nd proposal - centered around a salary cap.

If the league pays out more than 55 per cent of its revenues in salaries, if any three teams have a payroll of more than $42 million, if the average payroll of the three highest-spending teams is more than 33 per cent higher than the average of the three lowest spending teams, or if average team compensation exceeds $36.5 million, the league would have the right to make the switch.

Goodenow argued that one of the conditions would be met immediately.

"Even after our 24 per cent rollback and before clubs would sign any new players, we forecast over three teams would be over the $42-million level. So just at first blush, a trigger would be met," he argued.

The league says that it's premature to say whether or not the conditions would be met immediately.

The two sides will meet again on Thursday but the NHLPA will not present a new proposal.

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