The NHL and its players' association are still reportedly inching closer toward an agreement after meeting
for the eighth straight day yesterday in New York.
The two sides have met for nine consecutive weeks in an effort to end the lockout that began on Sept. 16.
The NHL's executive committee also met yesterday with commissioner Gary Bettman to be briefed on the progress
Things have been so tight-lipped about the NHL's negotiations that even executives such as Flyers general
manager Bob Clarke don't know exactly how the collective-bargaining agreement will turn out. That doesn't mean that the Flyers
haven't made a game plan for the 2005-06 season. It's just that nothing at this point can be concrete.
"Just using the rumors we got, we have a plan in place for what we are going to do," Clarke said. "If the
rumors we heard are true, then we know who will be on the Flyers next season."
That means the Flyers have an idea whose contracts they would buy out, whom they would try to sign, and if
they would be able to bid for any free agents.
The NHL is expected to have a salary cap in the $37 million range. The players will take a relatively big
salary hit. By most accounts, salaries aren't expected to exceed 54 percent of leaguewide revenue.
Some estimates are that the average salary will drop from $1.85 million to about $1 million. Included in the
agreement is an expected 24 percent rollback of existing contracts.
Still, Flyers captain Keith Primeau said that he and many of the players he had spoken to are only thinking
about returning to the ice after a long hiatus.
"The players are excited to be getting back," said Primeau, who has been invited to the Canadian Olympic team's
training camp Aug. 15-20 in British Columbia. "I felt there was always urgency for us to get back on the ice, and there is
more so now. There has been so much anxiety as this thing has lingered on."
The slow pace in negotiations has come about because both sides want to understand every detail and ensure
that there is no confusion once a deal is announced.
When that happens is anybody's guess; it could be tomorrow at the earliest.
The snail's pace in coming to an agreement is proof to Primeau that the two sides were never close to a settlement
last winter. There had been several reports that the two sides were close to a deal in February.
"We feel there was no opportunity for us in the winter," Primeau said in a telephone interview from Canada.
"The sides have been meeting for weeks now and they still haven't finalized the deal, so how were they going to do it in the
winter and get on with a season?"
Clarke felt that a deal was close in February, but now he doesn't dispute Primeau's claim.
"In hindsight, he is probably right," Clarke said. "At the time, I thought they were close."
Clarke was not involved in the negotiations. "It looked like where we sat, once a salary limit was in place,
the rest would fall easily," he said. "But we were wrong."