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NHL’s Final Word: Take It or Leave It : Hockey: After voting down earlier agreement, owners again put the puck in players’ zone.

From Associated Press

The NHL lockout has come down to one last offer from the league. Take it or leave it. Season or no season. The owners said Tuesday night that it’s all up to the players.

“This is the final, final, final, final, final offer,” Boston Bruin President Harry Sinden said.

“We’ve given (NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman a mandate to do the deal on our guidelines,” Edmonton Oiler owner Peter Pocklington said.

Canadian Press said the owners voted 19-7 Tuesday to send a proposal that was similar to the plan the Board of Governors had rejected earlier in the day.

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If the players refuse, there will be no 1994-95 NHL season.

It was unclear if the players had to respond by Tuesday night or by today. An NHL statement read by league spokesman Arthur Pincus said only that a new agreement had to be “reached promptly.” Pincus then refused to answer questions.

Neither Bettman nor NHL Players Assn. head Bob Goodenow were available for comment.

Free agency was by far the most contentious issue in the round-the-clock negotiations that Bettman and Goodenow started Monday morning.

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Under terms of the contract management is sending to the union, players would have the right to become unrestricted free agents when they reach 32 years old in the first three years of the contract and when they reach 31 in the last three years.

Because owners reportedly have the right to reopen the agreement after the third year, players may never see the 31-year-old benefit.

Sinden doesn’t have much sympathy.

“We started out with and we’re going to abide . . . knowing full well that we needed a salary cap,” he said. “We changed the cap to a tax and we didn’t get that, either.”

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In the proposal that was rejected by the owners Tuesday, players would have become unrestricted free agents at 32 in the first year and at 31 in the last five. Players went into the week hoping to land free agency at 30.

“It’s disappointing that we offered 32 in the first year and 31 in the next five and they didn’t accept it,” said Bob Corkum, player rep of the Mighty Ducks. “It seems that they’re stuck on 32.”

Hartford Whaler General Manager Jim Rutherford agreed that the Board of Governors was “splitting hairs.”

“And this isn’t the time to do that,” he said. “The main issue is the age of free agency.”

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Other key components of the contract the owners rejected:

--Three salary arbitration walkaways over each two-year period for players receiving awards of at least $550,000.

--$850,000 salary cap for first-round draft picks.

--Draft for 19-year-olds with 18-year-olds having the option to get in.

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Earlier Tuesday, the 102nd day of the owners’ lockout, the Board of Governors voted 14-12 against a proposal that Bettman had worked out with Goodenow in 20-plus hours of negotiations.

Reports circulated throughout the day that a deal was imminent. But by the time of the first conference call, many owners had become dissatisfied with the six-year contract Bettman brought them.

“There’s a lot of issues that have developed into a very substantial controversy among the clubs,” Toronto General Manager Cliff Fletcher said.


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