Despite Bob Goodenow's vow to reject a salary cap, the deal likely contains one.
TORONTO (AP) -- The road leading to the Hockey Hall of Fame here is plastered with posters proclaiming, "It's Our Game. Play On!"
The NHL is getting close to doing just that.
At the conclusion of a two-day players' association meeting that began Wednesday, union members will cast ballots in a ratification vote that will determine if the NHL lockout is really at its end.
The discussion of the collective bargaining agreement, tentatively reached last week, began in earnest around dinnertime Wednesday and was expected to continue for several hours into the night.
It was to pick up again this morning before the players vote, and the fate of next season becomes known.
Fans who sought autographs in the hotel lobby from players they've missed for a year will have to wait a little longer for some good news.
It looks like it's coming.
"We had to stand up for what we thought we could get and that's the nature of the business. Now we have to move on," St. Louis Blues forward Doug Weight said.
Surely many of the 700-plus players will voice displeasure over the deal they have heard about for some time but will finally see on paper. Those not in attendance will be able to vote via the Internet.
Players' association executive director Bob Goodenow went into this labor fight with the league vowing not to take a salary cap or have player compensation linked to league-wide revenues.
By all accounts, this deal contains both.
Support and dissention
"As far as I'm concerned, he's done what we asked him to do," said Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff O'Neill, one of several hundred players to attend the meeting. "He's led us and I think he's done the right things.
"Maybe as a group we underestimated how strong the owners were going to be. But we were all behind Bob and we were all in this together. For people to judge whether we won or lost this deal I think is ridiculous."
Some players have not been so supportive of Goodenow., however. In the end, everyone lost a year's salary, and the union's executive committee has signed off on a deal that appears to be owner-friendly.
No doubt, the long night and day of internal talks will bring out opposing opinions. The discussions will probably be loud and somewhat animated, too.
After all, these are hockey players.
"When this is done, we're all going to be on the same side I hope," Weight said. "It's OK to have questions and it's OK to be heated about them. This is our livelihood."
Some of those entrusted to negotiate a deal for the players are fellow players that make up the executive committee -- headed by president Trevor Linden of the Vancouver Canucks.
"You're not going to please everyone all the time. It's going to be good for some and bad for others, but it's a deal we have to live with at this stage," St. Louis defenseman Chris Pronger said. "[The executive committee] has been locked in a room for the last 12 weeks hammering this down. They deserve a lot of credit for getting an agreement with the league."
All signs point to a ratification by the players today. If the expected happens, commissioner Gary Bettman will join his adversary Goodenow at a podium in a Toronto hotel and announce that the NHL is back in business.
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