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July 21, 2005 - NHL players ratify deal amid intense debate

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NHL players ratify deal amid intense debate

Philadelphia Inquirer

They began meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Westin Harbor Castle. The session was impassioned at times, with yelling across the ballroom.

After it ended at 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, some players hung around for another three hours, seeking more answers.

In the end, the NHL Players' Association ratified a new six-year collective-bargaining agreement on Thursday.

"Definitely, there was heated debate," former Flyer Luke Richardson of the Columbus Blue Jackets said. "Guys on both sides shared concerns. Others tried to make guys see what it's all about.

"You can't look back. That was part of the problem. Some guys had problems with the answers to their questions. They want answers and won't let go of the past. A lot of the problem with our players who are unhappy is they are stuck in the past."

Though 88 percent of the union's membership voted to accept the deal, many wondered whether a season really had to be sacrificed.

"People can look back and say, `Why didn't we offer this in December?' " the Toronto Maple Leafs' Bryan McCabe said. "But this probably wasn't available in December or even February.

"It is what it is, and we have to move on. Will this deal get better down the road if we turn this down? We've burned a season, so is it really worth burning a second one? You really have to wonder."

The hot-button issue for Bob Goodenow, the union's executive director, going into Thursday's vote was how much of players' salaries would be held in escrow. A maximum of 54 percent of leaguewide revenues is ticketed for the players.

Some reports said players would have to put 15 percent of their salaries in escrow. In the abridged version of the bargaining agreement, which was distributed by the league to general managers this week and obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer, there is no mention of a percentage. If leaguewide payrolls exceed 54 percent, the players will fork over the difference.

"Probably the most questions directed to Bob were about the escrow," Flyers captain Keith Primeau said. "The 15 percent is a fictitious number. There is nothing that says it may be less or may be more. That in itself is scary to players. It's 54 percent of hockey-related revenues. Anything over or under that percentage would be considered escrow or return of escrow."

On Friday, the NHL will announce its rules changes and conduct a weighted draft lottery for the rights to Sidney Crosby, the projected No. 1 pick.

"I'd just love to see some of the faces on those small-market teams if they pull out a lottery ball with Toronto or Philadelphia on it," Richardson said. "Oh, boy."