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NHL proposal is rejected

Players firm: Cap is out of question

The NHL's latest salary-cap proposal to end the seasonlong lockout was rejected yesterday by the players' union, which came back with its own idea: Bring commissioner Gary Bettman to the bargaining table.

Bettman is set to rejoin the talks today for the first time since Dec. 14. He'll meet with union head Bob Goodenow, NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin, and attorney John McCambridge.

Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer, and attorney Bob Batterman will join Bettman on the owners' side. "Bob and Gary really have to be in the room to do the deal," Daly said.

In turning down the league's offer, the union reiterated it won't accept a salary cap as a solution.

"The league presented a written proposal with minor variations of concepts that were presented orally by the NHL last Thursday," Saskin said. "We told the league last week and again today that their multilayered salary cap proposals were not the basis for an agreement."

The sides met for four hours in Newark, the fifth time in two weeks they've talked. The lockout reached its 140th day yesterday, and has forced the cancellation of 762 of the 1,230 regular-season games, plus the All-Star Game. With time a factor, there appears to be little wiggle room in negotiating this proposal.The NHL proposed a six-year deal that contained a cap that would force teams to spend at least $32 million on player costs but no more than $42 million -- including benefits. Both figures would be adjusted each year to reflect changes in league revenues.Last season's average salary was $1.8 million, and the NHL has proposed pushing that back with a salary cap. This offer would give players between 53 and 55 percent of league revenues; the average salary would depend on earnings.If a deal is reached in time for hockey to be played this year, the NHL proposed that the players association would still receive 53 percent of revenues generated from a full playoff schedule that would follow a shortened regular season.Also included in the offer -- which could be reopened by the union after four years -- was a profit-sharing plan that would allow the players' association to evenly split revenues over a negotiated level with the league. An entry-level contract cap of $850,000 -- including bonuses -- also was proposed by the NHL. That would return the ceiling to that of the 1995 draft class. Last season, the cap on entry-level contracts was $1.295 million.The four-year, two-way contracts would also cap bonuses at $100,000 in each year of the deals for top-five draft picks. Those bonuses would drop to $75,000 for players chosen from picks six to 15; to $50,000 for players taken from 16-30; and to $40,000 for players chosen 31st or later. The league has proposed giving its own bonuses to entry-level players who finish in the top five in voting for the Hart, Norris, Vezina, and Selke awards, including $500,000 for winning.

The NHL also offered to implement a jointly monitored accounting and audit system that would penalize teams with multimillion dollar fines and the loss of draft choices if they failed to disclose financial information.

Players would gain unrestricted free agency at 30 instead of 31, starting with the 2006-07 season. That age would drop to 28 if the NHL elects to eliminate salary arbitration during the course of the deal. The minimum salary would be raised 62 percent to $300,000 per year, and guaranteed contracts would remain but would be limited to three-year deals.

The league agreed to retain arbitration, a change from its counterproposal to the union Dec. 14, but the NHL wants teams to take players to arbitration instead of it being a one-way process.

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