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July 13, 2005 - Pebble Beach meetings in March turned the tide in NHL lockout

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CP) - The turning point in the NHL lockout happened in the unlikeliest of places: Pebble Beach, Calif.
Famous for golf rather than hockey, it was in Pebble Beach from March 22-25 that the tide turned on the NHL's messy labour situation. And the NHL negotiators weren't even there. It was at a union meeting in California that NHLPA leaders and members of the players' executive committee finally agreed to negotiate a system with a hard salary cap linked to league revenues, according to sources.

When talks with the league resumed April 4 in Toronto, the NHLPA informed the league of their massive change of heart. It set off a furious schedule of meetings and triggered hours on hours of talks that eventually led to the deal that players and owners will vote on next week.

And from that point on, the rhetoric was toned down dramatically as the league and union rolled up their sleeves and finally got to work on a lengthy and complicated document.

NHL executive vice-president Bill Daly and NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin barely caught a wink in the final two months.

NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow was not in favour of going this route, of giving in to linking player salaries and league revenues within a hard-cap system. But he went along with it, respecting the wishes of president Trevor Linden and the rest of the players' executive committee.

In the wake of the decision, Goodenow was far less visible.

Goodenow's role during this lockout will remain a source of debate for years to come, especially given his reluctance to share his opinions publicly.

Many player agents are angry with him, frustrated that he didn't heed their advice or share more of his strategy with them. But to Goodenow's defence, he constantly and consistently warned players in individual team meetings in 2003 and 2004 that they would have to sit out at least two years if they wanted to avoid the kind of system the league was after.

Few players argued that wisdom at the time.

But by the winter of 2005, many players had changed their tune. There were simply not willing to sit out another year.

Linden and the rest of the executive committee felt this and that led to the Pebble Beach decision, according to sources.

Showing how complex the negotiations were, it took another four months to strike the deal.

While the union first put a salary cap on the table in February in an effort to salvage the 2004-05 season, it was not a model that linked player salaries to revenues - "linkage."

Pebble Beach went a step further, finally satisfying commissioner Gary Bettman's long-standing quest for "cost certainty."

On the other side of the table, the owners stuck together this time round. Unlike 10 years ago, the owners did not cave in and take the salary cap off the table.

As one-sided as this deal may look, the owners had to give in as well. Players of any age can now become unrestricted free agents after seven years in the NHL, the 2004-05 wipe-out season counting in service time. That means Sidney Crosby can become an unrestricted free agent at the age of 25 if he's not under contract at that point.

And owners will be sharing the pot a little more than they would have liked. The top 10 money-making clubs will contribute to a fund shared by the bottom 15 teams. That's not something the league was willing to do at the beginning of the lockout.

The bottom line is that there may not have been much that could have avoided 301 lost days before an agreement.

"I really wish I could stress that point to people even more," Philadelphia Flyers centre Keith Primeau said Wednesday. "As unfortunate as the events were of this past winter - it's a predicament all of us would have preferred not to have been in - it really was a necessary evil. A year ago today, you would have found neither side willing to negotiate off of their positions - the players not willing to concede percentage of revenue and cost certainty in the form of a cap.

"And you'd have owners who would not have been prepared to divulge financial information with regards to parking, concessions, suite sales, but that's what happens under the pressure of a lost season. Everybody sits back and reflects on what's important and what their missing out on. It took that amount of time to get to this point. In my own personal time line, it really followed the script exactly. It's how I thought it would unfold."