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Game over

Sports | NHL players believe Commissioner Gary Bettman never intended to play the season

Issue: "Foster care's future," March 5, 2005

At least linguists won't have to worry about the plausibility of the word "un-canceled." After NHL commissioner Gary Bettman officially canceled the season, a rogue negotiation session between players and a faction of owners failed. The gap between the owners' proposed $42.5 million salary cap and the players' proposed cap of $49 million remained.

Now that the labor struggle has killed the 2004-05 season, players and owners will try to save the start of the 2005-06 season. "From both sides, this is not a good situation," players association president Trevor Linden said. "It's basically uncharted territory."

The final impasse surprised many hockey fans who watched both sides make concessions in the week leading up to the deadline. The owners, who say they collectively lost $224 million last season, gave up on the idea of linking a salary cap to league revenue. The players association-much to the shock of some members-dropped its long-standing opposition to a salary cap. The stalemate left players bitter, believing the commissioner's office never intended to play the season. "We were on track to get something done," Mr. Linden said. "I feel like Gary [Bettman] pulled the rug out."

Back on the mound

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There's something missing from Justin Thompson's life that gives him hope. For the first time in a long time, the veteran left-handed pitcher doesn't have pain in his shoulder. In August 1999, team doctors for the Detroit Tigers operated on the pitcher. He hasn't played since. Instead, he's spent most of his time rehabilitating for the Texas Rangers, who traded for him after the surgery. And this year, like former major league pitchers Albie Lopez and Denny Neagle, Mr. Thompson hopes he can use baseball's spring training to catapult himself back into the big leagues.

Mr. Lopez, a burly former Indians and Devil Rays pitcher, walked away from the game last year during spring training. It was his wife's birthday, and he said he needed to rededicate himself to his family and his health. After taking the year off, Mr. Lopez reported to the Pirates spring training camp 20 pounds lighter and with a dedication that impressed the Pittsburgh front office. Meanwhile, Mr. Neagle, cut by Colorado after being arrested for solicitation, is trying to make Tampa Bay's roster after not pitching for 19 months.

But Mr. Thompson knows he's the longest of shots for a comeback: "It's taken a long time to get back to this point, but I didn't want to quit," Mr. Thompson told the Detroit Free Press.

Around the Horn

· It may be surprising to some, but Juiced wasn't rampant 'roider and former baseball MVP Jose Canseco's first book. In the dubious tell-all, Mr. Canseco admits to using steroids throughout his career. But a second read of his first book, Strength Training for Baseball, reveals some particularly ironic passages. "A word about steroids," Mr. Canseco wrote in the 1990 book. "Don't use them." He went on: "Also, baseball is not a game of large muscle. It is a game of strong, solid, durable muscle. Therefore, steroids have virtually no value even in the short term, if you are serious about baseball."

· The Seahawks saved their special "franchise player" designation for running back Shaun Alexander. The Raiders used the tool, which allows teams to sign players to special one-year contracts, on Charles Woodson. Always willing to buck the trend, the Super Bowl champion Patriots opted to apply their franchise tag on their kicker, Adam Vinatieri. Considering New England's recent success, the move might even start a trend.

· If NASCAR still needed to assert its prominence, it now can boast of a five-year, $107.5 million deal with SIRIUS to broadcast its races on satellite radio. Starting in 2007, the satellite radio provider, which already broadcasts a 24-hour NFL channel, will create an all-hours NASCAR channel-perfect for rabid NASCAR fans who shadow the sport, driving between venues during race season.

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