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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Owners appear to be united

John Dellapina New York Daily News

NEW YORK – Having spent the previous 10 years failing to match the mental toughness of their employees, National Hockey League owners have spent the last 10 months proving their willingness to stand and fight.

Having spent the previous 10 years learning that there was always another rich guy in line to pay them more than common sense dictated, NHL players have spent the last 10 months coming to grips with a new dynamic.

There are probably about 10 days left to determine whether the acceptance of that new dynamic leads to a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement quickly enough to save a portion of the 2004-05 season.

While both sides insisted that the lines of communication would remain open following the two days of face-to-face talks between the respective leadership tandems Thursday and Friday, those lines remained silent Saturday. By all accounts, it was a day for each side to regroup, reflect on the substance of the nearly 13 hours of talks that had taken place in Newark, N.J., and Manhattan and rev up for what figures to be a busy upcoming week.

NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow and his second in command, union senior director Ted Saskin, now have to contend with high-profile players such as Jeremy Roenick and Michael Peca publicly discussing the possibility of accepting some form of a salary cap. While it is highly unlikely that NHL players would turn on one another or subvert Goodenow’s leadership, it is clear that there is at least some difference of opinion on their side about making their stand on the cap issue.

When asked on Saturday how the union envisioned this situation playing out so that the leverage would swing in the players’ favor, one prominent player told the New York Daily News: “That’s a good question. I’m not really sure how that would happen.”

In contrast, though it can be partially attributed to the league’s threat of stiff fines, owners have been remarkably disciplined in their public pronouncements. Accustomed to hoarding their sources of revenue and using their financial clout to swipe players from one another, they’ve so far stuck to the all-for-one approach that Bettman required to take this fight to Goodenow.

In fact, on the rare occasions when owners have been heard from, they’ve only proclaimed hard-line positions that made it sound as if they were willing to torch next season as well if that’s what it takes to get the cost certainty they demand.

With Goodenow long having insisted that the NHLPA would never accept a system based on a salary cap or a fixed link between league revenues and player salaries, finding a middle ground has so far proven impossible.

However, one of the potentially intriguing wrinkles making the rounds was an owners’ offer of allowing each team to designate a franchise player on its roster. That player could be paid a cap-busting amount, allowing teams to go over the cap number just for that specific case.

While that would only affect a maximum of 30 players per season, they would be powerful, high-profile players. Coincidentally, they’d be the players with the most to lose if a hard cap were in place.

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