CP) - A big week lies ahead for the NHL as labour talks resume Monday in Toronto and the league's 30 general managers meet in Detroit on Thursday and Friday to discuss rule changes.
First up, another sitdown between the league and the NHL Players' Association. While the league hopes the union comes armed with a counter-offer, sources said Sunday that the NHLPA will not have one. The union simply hopes to find some common ground with the league.
Sources do indicate, however, that a larger group than usual will gather Monday, with the addition of some owners and players as well as New Jersey Devils GM and CEO Lou Lamoriello.
The two sides haven't met since March 17 in New York, when the NHLPA was presented two proposals by the NHL, the first a team-by-team $37.5-million US salary cap deal that did not have a fixed link between player costs and league revenues - "linkage."
The second offer was based on linkage, with player costs to take up no more than 54 per cent of league revenues.
The union wants no part of linkage, not wanting to tie players' salaries to a business that has suffered immeasurable damage with an entire season cancelled.
The NHL gave the union an April 8 deadline - this Friday - to negotiate on the "de-linked" proposal, or else it will be pulled off the table and only the second proposal will remain.
So the union, which held a conference call with players last week, has had a major decision to make. Do the players cut their losses now and put a cap offer on the table, let's say around $45 million, and call it a day? Or do they gamble that the NHL's next option, replacement players, will blow up in its face next fall and hand the leverage back to the union.
The decision should be clear on Monday.
If there's no deal in the near future, the subject of replacement players will be on the table when owners gather again for another board of governors meeting April 20 in New York.
Regardless of Monday's outcome, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his right-hand man, executive vice-president Bill Daly, will then shift gears from Toronto to Detroit in a much-anticipated GMs meeting.
Detroit Red Wings veteran Brendan Shanahan, who has shown a passion for the improvement of the on-ice product, has been invited to join the GMs as they discuss rule changes meant to deliver a more exciting product once the game is back in business. More players may also be present as the league attempts to diffuse the union's annoyance at not being involved when rule changes are being discussed.
Ideas under review could be as drastic as making the nets bigger, eliminating the centre-ice red line and instituting penalty shootouts for regular-season games.
Colin Campbell, the league's director of hockey operations, will show GMs three prototypes of bigger nets.
Regardless of what they come up with by Friday afternoon, all rule changes need to be approved by the board of governors at a later date.
Also on the agenda in Detroit will be a discussion of the draft order for the 2005 class. Oh to be a fly on the wall. All 30 GMs desperately want to get their hands on hockey phenom Sidney Crosby so the conversation should be more than a little lively. The bottom-feeders want to stick with last year's standings to figure out the new draft order, while the big boys want a league-wide lottery where every team has a fair shot at the No. 1 overall pick.
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