Milbury: 'Best deal has already been offered'

NEW YORK -- Day 155 of the NHL lockout was stunningly Day 1
of the offseason.

Now the fear is the fight over a new deal between owners and
players will just start over from scratch. Everything offered has
been pulled back, any softening of the positions has been lost.

One canceled season could easily become two if cooler heads
don't prevail.

Late Thursday, rumors swirled that maybe there was still a
chance to save the season.

"I hear some rumblings ... that owners and players are trying
to make an attempt to get back to the bargaining table, but it's
got to occur today, tomorrow, or the next day," agent Pat Brisson
told The Associated Press.

Both sides said there have been no talks since commissioner Gary
Bettman and players' association executive director Bob Goodenow
traded proposals Tuesday.

"We have heard a lot of the rumors that are out there, but we
have had absolutely no contact with the union since Bob's final
letter," NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly told the AP. "Unless
or until we hear from the union, the rumors are meaningless."

However, when asked if the NHL would be open to meetings that could reverse the cancellation of the season, Daly told The Hockey News: "I would love to have that problem."

The Hockey News cited sources that said Wayne Gretzky and Mario
Lemieux are trying to work together to get a deal done. Gretzky
downplayed the report during a radio interview with the Fan 590 in

"To say Mario and I had a conversation to stir up the
conversations and talks again, that's just not true," Gretzky

And it appears that no other scenarios could un-cancel the
season, either.

"The players we've spoken to understand the basis upon which
Gary canceled the season, and as a result there's no expectation
among our membership that there would be any further
negotiations," NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin told The
Associated Press.

There was no progress made through the first five months of the
lockout, but breakthroughs were achieved just days before the
season was lost.

The dispute has always been about a salary cap, but even after
owners and players made concessions in an effort to save the
season, it all fell apart over dollar figures.

"We didn't make good history, but we made history another
way," Dallas forward Bill Guerin, a member of the players'
association executive committee, said while making the radio rounds
Thursday. "We have to be the first union to offer a salary cap and
get shot down."

All along, the union swore it would never accept a cap -- but
that was before the NHL dropped its insistence on having a link
between league revenues and player costs.

A wall was knocked down, but it was too late. Once the sides
started trading numbers, it became clear they weren't close enough
to a deal. Even though the league's cap offer of $42.5 million per
team was only $6.5 million less than the players' proposal, it
proved to be a gap that couldn't be bridged.

"I was expecting to hear there wasn't a season for the past six
weeks," Rangers forward Bobby Holik said. "I hope the people in
these negotiations realize they're not that far apart. Let's not
blame one or the other. The blame is collective, and let's get
working on a new day."

The NHL's partnership with NBC will still be there when play
resumes. The revenue-sharing deal in which the network is not even
paying rights fees is for two years, with the network holding the
option for another two.

That won't start until hockey is played.

"We were prepared for any eventuality," NBC Sports spokesman
Mike McCarley said. "We have profitable replacement programming in

And that is a big problem the NHL will be forced to face for as
long as the league is shut down, and then even more once it is back
in operation. Hockey was already a distant forth among the United
States' four major sports leagues, and now it could disappear south
of the Canadian border, where 24 of the 30 teams are based.

"It's done with, we'll never get the season back. It will
probably lower the fan base," New York Rangers defenseman Tom Poti
said. "Everybody's going to suffer a lot from this lockout. I
don't see it starting in the fall. There's no pressure to get it

For now, many will look ahead to this spring's world
championship tournament in Austria. Usually, only players on teams
eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs had the opportunity to
take part -- but many stars might be craving a competitive game.

Over 300 of the 700-plus players have spent at least part of the
season in European leagues, and that would be an option again in
the fall.

Bettman didn't rule out the use of replacement players for next
season if a deal with the union can't be worked out. He said the
NHL plans to have hockey next season, and all options will be
explored by the board of governors when it convenes soon.

Milbury called some of his players Wednesday night and urged
them to push the union leadership to make a deal.

"This is not about a bluff," Islanders general manager Mike Milbury said. "The best deal has
already been offered. The sooner they come to the conclusion that
they need to make a deal to move this business forward, the better
off we all are."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.