Meeting billed as routine update

TORONTO -- There will be plenty to talk about when player representatives meet with union leadership Tuesday as the NHL lockout drags on.

The gathering at an airport hotel has been planned for nearly a month and was billed as a routine update on the labor dispute so player reps could brief their teammates.

But following opposing comments from Mike Commodore, Pierre Dagenais, Brian Pothier and Rob Ray, the meeting is doubling as a show of unity seven weeks into the lockout.

"I think it's great timing, a great chance for everyone to get together and confirm that we are on the same page. I believe that we are," Todd Marchant, the player representative for the Columbus Blue Jackets, told The Canadian Press.

Ray said he would be willing to be a replacement player if the NHL starts up again without negotiating a new deal.

A group of 70-80 is expected to attend the meeting, including the 30 team representatives and other players who want to join in.

The players' executive committee will also be there: president Trevor Linden, and vice presidents Bob Boughner, Vincent Damphousse, Daniel Alfredsson, Bill Guerin, Trent Klatt and Arturs Irbe.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is staying out of the fray and declined to send a message to the players.

"For me to suggest the message would be both presumptuous and potentially inflammatory, so I won't do that," Bettman told The Canadian Press. "I'm assuming they're going to have a good meeting, hopefully it will be a candid exchange of opinions and that possibly they'll come out of this meeting ready to move forward with meaningful negotiations."

The league and union haven't held bargaining talks since Sept. 9 and there are no negotiating sessions planned.

"If at any point in time the union is interested in resuming formal negotiations, all they have to do is let us know and we'll be happy to re-engage," Bettman said.

The union says the ball is in the league's court because it made the last proposal in September, a luxury-tax system that was rejected by the league. The NHLPA claims the league has said not to come back to the table until it was ready to talk about a salary cap.

"We all believe that the proposal we made certainly satisfies every concern that the owners are looking for," Marchant said. "They're looking for a correlation between revenues and spending. A luxury tax does take care of that.

"We've talked about salary arbitration, we've talked about salaries at the entry level. All these different components that make up the old CBA have been altered to favor the owners, to make it better for them.

"But when Gary Bettman doesn't even want to look at that piece of paper that we proposed, that is difficult. When they come back and say hard cap or nothing, that's not negotiating, that's not trying to get a deal done. That's trying to be the bully."

Ted Saskin, the NHLPA senior director, said last week that the meeting is simply to update the players and answer their questions and not to formulate a new proposal.

The lockout is in its seventh week, and over 120 games have already been officially called off.

Agents will get together with the NHLPA in Chicago on Nov. 17 to discuss issues surrounding the lockout. A large group is expected, including Don Baizley, Don Meehan, J.P. Barry, Pat Brisson, Pat Morris and Rick Curran.