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February 16, 2005 - Only miracle rally can salvage season

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Only miracle rally can salvage season

In hockey terms, the season is down a goal with about 30 seconds to play. The players still thought there was hope until Tuesday night's NHL $42.2-million take-it-or-leave-it salary cap offer found its way into their empty net.

Now, barring some sort of miracle rally early this morning, the campaign appears to be ready to expire.

The Flyers sat by their telephones, computers and TV sets Tuesday night waiting for some hopeful news, but not expecting any.

"I think we've come a long way, but obviously I still don't think it looks very good,'' Tony Amonte said.

"They're putting in that $42-million cap, and I don't even know if it will go to a vote. I really don't see it happening right now.''

Sami Kapanen felt optimistic the past couple days after the NHL Players' Association announced its offer to play for a $52-million cap. That cap was eventually lowered to $49 million in a late-night proposal on Tuesday. Bettman rejected that level at 11 p.m. on Tuesday evening.

However, the veteran winger doesn't believe there's enough time left to continue a long debate.

"At least we were going in the right direction talking numbers,'' he said. "We were going around in circles for I don't know how many months.

"Now at least something is happening. Both sides are sitting down and thinking of the other's offers, but it's kind of a last-minute thing now. There's not a lot of time. I don't know if we've run out of time.''

The league did come off its stance of "linkage'' on Monday, lifting the tie between revenue and salary. But when the union counterproposed with its idea of a cap, the league balked.

As far as captain Keith Primeau is concerned, the players have given enough.

"Talking to players,'' he said, "we've gone further than anyone expected to go, and we're not going any further.''

Season over?

"There won't be a season from the players' perspective,'' Primeau said. "We continue to bang our heads against a brick wall, and we're now negotiating against that same wall.''

Back in the fall, team player representative Robert Esche had referred to commissioner Gary Bettman as a "madman,'' a comment for which he later apologized. On Tuesday, Esche sounded like somewhat of a moderate again.

"I'm sure not everybody is happy out there,'' Esche told the Canadian Press. "I'm sure there are some players not happy with a hard cap and some owners not happy at not having linkage.

"But, hey, it's a give-and-take world. Now it seems we're just down to numbers.''

The question is, is there enough time for the union to submit one more number and have the league digest it? In other words, is today's scheduled 1 p.m. drop-dead press conference chiseled in stone?

"Does everything Gary Bettman says fall through?'' Amonte said with a chuckle. "I mean, it's unbelievable ... he's got more deadlines. It's always final this, final that. I thought he might go through to the weekend. He said last weekend, and that went by. I'm sure if he thinks he can get a deal done, he will extend the deadline.''