Players Reject Owners' Proposal

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The NHL Players Association quickly rejected the latest contract proposal made by the NHL yesterday as the labor dispute gripping the league dragged on.

Today is the 141st day of the lockout by owners, the longest work stoppage in league history. Through yesterday, 62 percent of the league's 1,230-game schedule had been canceled.

A little more than two hours after the NHL submitted its plan, the union came back and made it plain again that it would not accept a proposal that included a salary cap - precisely what the NHL proposal included.

"The league today presented a written proposal with minor variations of concepts that were presented orally last Thursday," said Ted Saskin, senior director of the union. "We told the league last week and again today that their multilayered salary cap proposals were not the basis for an agreement."

In a strange twist, the union then suggested the two main antagonists, league commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow, be invited back to participate in the negotiations. The pair had been excluded for the past five sessions in an effort to get the stalled talks moving.

Yesterday's meeting lasted about four hours at an undisclosed location in Newark, N.J. It is assumed any meeting today will be at the same location.

"They asked for a meeting again [today], and we'll see what they have to say," said Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer, during an early evening conference call. "The [rejected] proposal was put together with their interests in mind, what they've communicated to us."

Daly repeatedly stressed time was running short to save this season, a stand that at times didn't seem too important to some members of management. …