Even with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux on the power play, the NHL couldn't light the lamp and pull the 2004-05 season out of the deep freeze.
After a 6 1/2-hour negotiating session in New York featuring the Coyotes managing general partner yeilded nothing — or perhaps, even widened the gap between the NHL owners and the league's players association — talks broke off with no further meetings scheduled.
Less than 24 hours after hopes were raised for a 28-game season that would begin on March 3, everything collapsed. NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin put a final stake through the heart of fans still hoping to see hockey this season.
“The season was cancelled on Wednesday and it's certainly not going to be resurrected after today,'' Saskin said. “It's 100 percent certain coming out of today's meeting that nothing could impact the cancellation of the season.''
Gretzky, who said he was asked to join the negotiations on Friday — and did so at the behest of Coyotes owner Steve Ellman — told TSN Saturday that he came to New york with a lot of optimism.
“We all got the first shock (Wednesday) when the season was cancelled ... but there was a lot of talk about people having behind-the-scenes conversations and I got a phone call Friday to see if I would come to New York with Mario.
“We met today and as silly as it sounds, I thought the talks were pretty positive. I think both sides mutually tried to bargain in good faith. Unfortunately, we just couldn't come to an understanding. At the end, I said from the outside point of view it seemed like we made some strides although were still apart. Both Mario and I encouraged both sides to keep talking for the better of the game and forthe players and the owners and the fans, to get a deal done as quickly as possible.''
Ellman reccomended to Gretzky he use his influence to bring about a solution, was stunned and disappointed over Saturday's events.
“We expected there to be a negotation and there was none,'' Ellman said. “Based on what we were hearing (through the media), we were optimistic about the talks and the chances of having a season. For the sport, for the fans, for all of us, this is a sad day.''
Neither side looks good after raising hopes Friday night. Several reports that a deal was already done were denied, but it didn't do much to dampen the optimism coming into Saturday. But well-placed NHL sources said the $45 million salary cap that was felt to be the “magic number'' to get a deal done was never put on the table by either side. Instead, the talks centered around fringe issues tied to the cap and it quickly became apparent there was no common ground to work from.
Now, the NHL sits were it did on Wednesday — dead in the water, with a gulf separating the two sides.