For two men who had little left in their back pockets for negotiating, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association executive director Bob Goodenow evidently found something to talk about yesterday on the eve of possible NHL destruction.
With the lingering promise to cancel the 1994-95 season at noon today if an agreement is not reached in the 102-day lockout, the two leaders met into the night.
Bettman and Goodenow agreed to meet yesterday after each side in this collective bargaining standoff rejected the "last, best" offer of the other side last weekend.
The owners' last offer did not include a salary cap or payroll tax (which the players have called a salary cap in disguise), but the NHLPA said the league's final proposal was so restrictive of a player's freedom that it was untenable.
If the season is canceled, it would be the first time in the history of the league that was established in 1917 that a season went unplayed. Not even two world wars stopped the NHL, which would become the first league of any kind to cancel an entire season.
"Any time they're meeting like this, for this long, there has to be optimism," said Washington defenseman Joe Reekie, who took part in the Capitals workout at the Bowie Health Club yesterday and anticipated skating at Piney Orchard Ice Rink with his teammates this morning. "It's in their hands, and hopefully an agreement will be reached. Right now, we're all just waiting and letting the process work. Hopefully, something will be resolved."
Everyone was waiting yesterday.
Capitals president Dick Patrick spent the day in his office, waiting for a phone call or a fax.
"I think it is going to come together," Patrick said. "I think we've given the players what they want and that Bob Goodenow is now trying to negotiate the numbers a little more favorably. Our own personal view is that there is no more give. [Capitals owner] Abe [Pollin] was adamant when he addressed the board: 'No more talk. No more changes.' "
Pollin spoke out as one of the "hawks" in a contentious board meeting in which ownership factions argued with each other. Pollin was for holding firm and losing the season if necessary to get the salary cap the owners had been seeking.
He was not alone. Quebec's Marcel Aubut said at Saturday's post-meeting news conference that his team would do better financially without a season than with an agreement that doesn't include a salary cap, and Edmonton's Peter Pocklington said his club could survive only if his peers keep a promise to enact some form of revenue-sharing in the future.
But Toronto's Cliff Fletcher -- who voted to accept the players' offer and also voted to reject the owners' final offer -- represented the faction that did not want to risk the season at any cost.
"T is right at the bottom of the list, alphabetically, and the vote was already over," said Fletcher, the Toronto general manager, describing his vote as a protest vote to the Associated Press. "Everyone knew what our position was going in. We were straightforward. We didn't want to risk the type of meeting going on now [between Bettman and Goodenow]. We didn't want to risk the season going ka-poof."
Philadelphia owner Ed Snider, who voted with Fletcher, said he could not understand "losing the season based on what the owners have now offered to the players. I think it would be a total disaster for the game, for our fans, for all the owners, for all the players. It would be a disaster."
If the two sides reach an agreement, the season is expected to begin Monday and to end May 6.