Last night during the USA and Russia WJC game Buccigross and Melrose both commented that they had talked to a number of players and NHL insiders and heard from multiple sources that the NHLPA was going to contact the NHL in the later part of this week for a final negotiating push for a settlement before the Jan 14th meeting date of the owners. They both felt "optimistic" about a settlement to preserve half the season and the Playoffs [and therefore the 2005 draft]. I predict the Union will come back with an offer to take the 24% rollback off the table; offer a phased in cap starting much higher than the 39 mill for a couple years then dropping down to a 40-45 mill range. They will also insist on maintaining arbitration rights [but probably in the MLB style]. They will also insist on an UFA age of 27 or 28 in return for the cap. The players, in their mind, have already given up this money in their mind. To get it back by taking the 24% rooback offer off the table, and getting a much lowered UFA age will allow them the feeling that the have "won" in some manner and makes accepting a phased in cap more palatable. Both sides being able to declare that they have won in SOME manner, yet giving the other side something they feel like they HAVE to have, is the absolute key to settlement in any collective bargaining situation. The owners, IMO, would be foolish not to accept a stuation like this.