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July 20, 2005 - NHL players to vote on pact

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NHL players to vote on pact

Grumbling is likely, but the new NHL contract is expected to be approved. Rules will be changed.

Inquirer Staff Writer

Whenever NHL Players' Association leaders meet with membership over money and contracts, there is dissension.

That often is the case with NHL owners, too. This week, however, the owners won't be balking, even if some of the players do.

Today and tomorrow in Toronto, more than 200 players from 30 NHL clubs will gather to vote on the six-year collective-bargaining agreement announced last week.

The rest of the players will vote electronically, and the result is expected to be announced tomorrow afternoon.

Assuming ratification, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and chief legal officer Bill Daly are expected to join union executive director Bob Goodenow and senior director Ted Saskin for a news conference, and Daly will travel to New York for Friday's board of governors meeting, where the owners are expected to approve the deal. By late afternoon, the league will conduct its draft lottery to determine who gets the No. 1 pick - and the right to select teenage phenomenon Sidney Crosby - and announce new rules.

The players are expected to grudgingly accept a $39 million salary cap and a 24 percent rollback in pay.

"I'm sure players will be very upset to see something that could have been done last year," said outspoken center Jeremy Roenick, who will not attend the meeting. "We lost a lot of money and have done a lot of damage to the game. I won't be there. I've said my piece, given my opinion. What has happened here speaks for itself."

Goodenow is not expected to embrace the CBA with open arms. It was largely negotiated by Saskin and Trevor Linden, who is president of the union and chairs the executive committee.

Part of the rancor expected will no doubt involve the players' having to put 15 percent of their salary in escrow against the 54 percent of league revenues they can accrue in the first year of the deal.

Goodenow will also have to explain the new formula for free agency. Seven-year veterans earn free-agency rights as of 2007-08, regardless of age. Players now must be 31 to become unrestricted free agents, but that age will drop over the life of the agreement. Under the seven-year rule, Crosby would become an unrestricted free agent in July 2012, when he will be 25.

"I expect there will be a lot of tough questions asked and answered," Flyers winger Mike Knuble said. "People will want to know why things progressed like they did and what was the reasoning behind things. This deal won't get passed unanimously, but everybody will have a chance to express themselves, face to face."

The meeting serves another purpose for Knuble. Since signing with the Flyers last summer, he still has not met a single teammate. Even when he was in Austria for the World Championship, the American did not get to meet the Canadian national team's Simon Gagne, and their dressing rooms were only yards apart.

"That is a big reason why I am going to this meeting," Knuble said. "You know how it is the first time you sit down with new guys; it's a little weird. But I look forward to this."

Flyers captain Keith Primeau and player representative Robert Esche are expected to attend. "We don't know what to expect," Primeau said. "We've been told by the union to be careful of what has been reported. Some of it, they say, is misinformation."

More than 700 players will vote. It's reasonable to assume that there will be a number of players voting "nay," but not enough to prevent passage.

"I can't see it not being ratified," Primeau said. "It would be awfully difficult for players not to accept the deal at this point. There will be some dissent on the players' side, but that's expected."