TORONTO -- With the Stanley Cup finals now securely in the rear-view mirror, the question still remains: Will NHL games be played next season?
NHL Players' Association head Bob Goodenow says the answer very easily could be no.
Goodenow, in Toronto for the NHLPA meetings, said the players remain firmly against a salary cap.
Management and the union have been at odds for the past 18 months over the issue of a cap. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his negotiating team want a hard cap, while the union wants no part of it. Neither side is backing down as of yet.
Is a high-stakes game of "chicken" on the horizon?
"A salary cap is not going to be part of the plan going forward," Goodenow told Toronto newspapers for Friday editions. "That means there won't be a start of the season and there may not be a season [at all] next year. We are not going to do a cap and we are not going to do a percentage of revenues. The owners set the scale of salaries for the players and that is the marketplace. It has always been that way for the past 75 years or so and that is the way we are going to go forward with it."
There are no meetings planned between the NHL and players.
"I'm optimistic we'll be able to get something done ... I'm an optimistic person," union president Trevor Linden told reporters. "I can't speak for the owners, but we're going to work hard as a union to try to avoid a lockout. We're going to try to get something done."
Avalanche star Joe Sakic doesn't expect to have to attend an Avs training camp at the end of the World Cup of Hockey in September.
"To me it just looks like Bettman doesn't want to start unless he gets everything he wants," Sakic told reporters. "So I don't expect hockey. We all hope [a new collective bargaining agreement] gets done, but to be realistic, I don't see it happening right now."
If the season does not start on time, players certainly have other options. They can play in Europe, or they can play in the newly formed World Hockey Association. The WHA announced Wednesday that its eight franchises will begin play Oct. 29.
The Lightning's Martin St. Louis, who was awarded the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP on Thursday night, said it would be silly for him not to at least consider playing in the WHA.
"Sitting at home or making $5 million, it would be very tempting," St. Louis told The Globe and Mail of Toronto. "Obviously, I have to know where we were at as far as the NHL situation. But to be honest, I really haven't thought about that."
WHA teams will have a $15 million salary cap, but a player such as St. Louis could make as much as $5 million as a team's top player.
Initially, the WHA said that if a player signs a contract, he would have to play the entire season with his WHA club. But on Wednesday, a WHA official said the league will likely change the bylaw to stipulate two players per team would have the option of returning to the NHL if labor problems are resolved during the season.
The new WHA will have franchises in Quebec City, Hamilton, Toronto, Halifax, Detroit, Dallas, Orlando, and Jacksonville, Fla.