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December 10, 2004 - Primeau encouraged after talks

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Primeau encouraged after talks
By WAYNE FISH
phillyBurbs.com

The upbeat tone in Keith Primeau's voice made it known the Flyers captain was somewhat encouraged by developments in the NHL labor meeting in Toronto on Thursday.

In fact, he says he now holds out some faint hope that there still could be an NHL season.

There were two reasons for Primeau's cautious optimism:

One, commissioner Gary Bettman did not dismiss the union's latest proposal before giving it a thorough review, plus the scheduling of a meeting next week to give his reaction and a possible counterproposal.

Two, Bettman acknowledged that the union's suggested plan recognized the league's financial situation, referring to a "one-time element'' which translates to a serious rollback of salaries already in place.

Primeau, who just signed a new four-year, $17-million contract last summer, potentially would be hard hit by such a rollback.

But it sounds like a number of veterans might be willing to make that sacrifice if they could avoid the threat of a salary cap, which Bettman still sounds fairly intent on getting.

Now it's up to the league. And while maybe very little actually changed on Thursday, at least everybody is still talking.

"I said earlier one of two things [could happen] - one, they could reject it and there would be no season or two, they would look at it and counterpropose,'' Primeau said. "That's the only way this could ultimately be encouraging.

"For the first time for me in a long time, I can genuinely say there's a small part of me that believes we might be able to salvage the season.''

Primeau knows the details of the union's proposal and said the NHLPA made a serious effort to meet the league's needs.

"No question,'' he said. "They really put their best foot forward. They tried to address the league's concerns. They put in all the necessary ingredients that would put a tremendous drag on salaries, at the same time as addressing their financial concerns at this juncture without restricting us as a union to a salary cap demand.

If, in fact, the rollbacks are for the full length of the next collective bargaining agreement, that would amount to a significant dollar amount. Players such as John LeClair ($9 million per year) and Jeremy Roenick ($7.5 million) could wind up giving back millions.

"It goes beyond next season,'' Primeau acknowledged. "There's entry level restructuring, arbitration restructuring. It addresses some of the concerns the owners have had up until this point that they didn't feel they could control.

"We've tried to find a way to help them control those problem areas.''

Sources close to the situation say the latest proposal will, by the union's math, save the league more than $200 million per year.

That doesn't completely cover the $273 million the league claims it lost last season.

But it's a step in the right direction.