James Dolan: I want to play hockey

NEW YORK -- With less than a week remaining for the NHL and NHLPA to reach a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement, there has been little optimism that a lockout can be avoided.

No new negotiations took place after an informal return to the table

There was hope that negotiations would resume Saturday or
Sunday, but the communication between the sides was limited to
phone and email instead.

However, several people within the New York Rangers organization expressed hope that an agreement can be reached in order for the puck to drop on time next month.

"The only thing I can say is that I want us to play hockey," Rangers owner James Dolan told ESPNNewYork.com at the team's first annual charity dog walk in Riverside Park.

"I'm always optimistic," echoed Rangers general manager Glen Sather.

After eight weeks of negotiating, the league and union still have a significant gap to bridge on key economic issues. Commissioner Gary Bettman has stated his intent to lock the players out if no deal is reached by Sept. 15, when the current CBA expires.

Rangers alternate captain Brad Richards still thinks there is sufficient time to broker a deal.

"We just want to play. We just want to get it figured out," said the 32-year-old center. "From my experience last time [there was a lockout], no one even talked at this point. I don't even know if anyone talked for a while into the lockout, so, a lot of people are trying to figure things out right now."

"There's a lot of meetings, a lot more than last time," Richards continued. "So, I think both sides know there's some urgency."

Richards was coming off a standout season during the last work stoppage. The summer before the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, Richards had led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

"It's tough to sit and wait and speculate. We did that last time and it can drive you nuts sometimes," Richards said. "You've got to be patient. People that are in charge on both sides are trusted that they're doing the right thing and trying to figure it out."

Richards, who played in Russia during the last lockout, said he has not thought of whether he'd be willing to play overseas again in the event of another forfeited season.

"Not right now, no. That's a long ways away. I've been hoping things gets done," he said. "It's an unfortunate thing this15th (deadline) but it's still nowhere near Oct. 10 or whenever the league starts. (I) can't think that far ahead. Just gonna keep being here and practice with the guys and keep doing things like we usually do."

Rangers coach John Tortorella, who partnered with the Westchester Humane Society to spearhead Sunday's charity effort, said the Rangers will plan on opening camp as planned unless instructed otherwise.

"The New York Rangers camp is ready to go on the 21st. We're chomping on the bit to get going here. If they say no, we'll wait 'til they say yes," he said. "I just hope we keep on learning that this needs to be a partnership for this league to continue to flourish and grow as it has. It needs to be a partnership."

For a league that experienced a record $3.3 billion in revenue, and for all those in the hockey community whose livelihoods depend on it, there is a lot at stake.

"I don't think they want to lose that momentum, players and owners," Tortorella said. "I'm very optimistic that things get done here and we get playing."

Meanwhile, Montreal Canadiens players have hired Montreal-based
lawyer Michael Cohen, who sent a cease and desist letter to the
team's owners and the NHL on Friday. They claim it would be
unlawful for the players to be locked out because the NHLPA isn't
certified by the Quebec Labor Board. Under Quebec law, a union must
have that certification for an employer to enact a lockout.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.