- Craig Custance
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WINDSOR, Ontario -- After a roller-coaster week of CBA negotiations in New York, three of the players who took part in the intense meetings with the NHL -- the Kings' Kevin Westgarth, Chicago's Jamal Mayers and the Oilers' Shawn Horcoff -- were back on the ice Saturday night competing in a Windsor charity game.
And despite the ugly ending to negotiations in New York, optimism emerged that a deal between the NHL and the players still will get done.
"I went through it in 2004. I understood it how far apart we were. I don't have that feel that we're far apart," Mayers said. "I'm still an optimist. Hopefully, they come back to the table and realize it's not worth it."
Horcoff and Westgarth had the same positive evaluation of the state of CBA negotiations.
"We made a lot of progress," Westgarth said. "It's pretty clear that we're not that very far apart. It's unfortunate that's the reaction we got."
That's the one area where frustration was still evident -- the NHL's reaction to the players' offer on Thursday. Mayers expressed disappointment the owners weren't present to hear the NHLPA's offer, which Mayers said moved closer to the owners' position than some players were comfortable doing.
During their Thursday news conference, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly said they were looking for a yes or no answer from the players rather than more negotiations. According to Mayers, that wasn't the message they received from inside the room.
"To be honest, it was never a take-it-or-leave-it offer they gave. I was in the room. That may have changed now; that wasn't how it was presented," Mayers said. "They pointed out those elements that were important to them. We came back and addressed every single one of them."
There currently aren't plans for further negotiations, but the players at Saturday evening's game said they hoped that changes when emotions cool.
In the meantime, they enjoyed the opportunity to get back on the ice and raise money for charity. The game in Windsor, organized by Buffalo forward Steve Ott and Detroit forward Danny Cleary, was a benefit for Sparkles, a charity that assists children with cancer. The players presented a $10,000 check before the game for the charity and proceeds from ticket sales will be added to that total, Cleary said.
For one night, it was a nice distraction from the negotiations.
"I thought it was great," Ott said. "This would never happen if there wasn't a lockout. I guess you could say, make good out of a bad situation."
That bad situation could get worse this week, when it's likely more December games will be canceled. But Mayers hopes the week also will see a return to the table for both sides.
"We don't control that. It was the NHL that got up and left and pulled everything from the table," he said. "Certainly there will come a time in the next few days or the next week, they'll start to talk again. My hope is that the owners realize that we really are that close."
Despite the ugly ending to negotiations in New York, optimism emerged between Kevin Westgarth, Jamal Mayers and Shawn Horcoff that a deal between the NHL and the players will still get done.