NHL cancels meeting with board of governors

Posted: Friday, January 07, 2005

NEW YORK — The NHL canceled next week's meeting with its board of governors on Thursday because the league has nothing new to report in the stagnant collective bargaining process.

The board of governors, representing the 30 clubs, hadn't met since September when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman imposed the lockout that reached its 113th day on Thursday and has forced the cancellation of 571 regular-season games and the 2005 All-Star game.

''There was clearly a hope, if not an expectation, that we'd be further along than we are,'' NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly told The Associated Press on Thursday night.

There was speculation that Bettman might emerge from next Friday's meeting either with an announcement that this season had been called off, or with a final date for saving the hockey year.

''There's not going to be a drop-dead date,'' Daly said. ''We believe the only important thing is a negotiated agreement that will work for the sport and the industry long term.

''When we're past the point of no return, I think an appropriate announcement will be made. But we're not going to give that announcement in advance.''

Rumors also started that the NHL might have come up with a new proposal that it wanted to run by the board of governors before presenting it to the players. Daly dispelled that notion and said it is up to the union to restart talks.

''This board meeting was to update the board on the progress of negotiations, and since there has been no progress since we scheduled it, it's not surprising that we chose to cancel it,'' Daly said.

No North American sports league has lost an entire season to a labor dispute, but the NHL is moving dangerously close to becoming the first.

''We were hopeful that progress could continue to be made, that hopefully the union would come forward with a new proposal,'' Daly said. ''I think that is appropriate, given the fact that they rejected our counterproposal after only a matter of hours of consideration. The fact that they didn't is unfortunate.''

If the idea was to pressure the players' association to come up with a new offer in a last-ditch effort to save the season, it didn't seem to work.

Owners and players haven't sat down at the negotiating table since last month when the sides met twice within six days.

''I'm sure the reason it was called off was there was no reason to have a meeting,'' said Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, who represents New Jersey on the board of governors. ''Our commissioner never has a meeting just for the sake of having a meeting.''

The players' association got talks restarted after three months of silence with a proposal centered around an immediate 24 percent salary rollback on all existing contracts. Owners rejected that plan and countered with a salary-cap structured offer.

The NHLPA quickly turned that down and remained adamant that it would never accept a salary cap. The union's offer featured a luxury-tax and revenue-sharing system.

Bettman said he has no interest in any kind of luxury tax proposed by the players.

''I don't know of anyone who believes that the NHL has made one bona fide proposal aimed at a settlement that could work for both sides,'' NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin said. ''While the NHL acknowledged the significance of our Dec. 9 proposal, they proceeded to intentionally mischaracterize its impact and gave a response which they knew would provide no basis for further discussions.

''Collective bargaining negotiations should involve reasonable attempts by both parties to find middle ground. To date, the NHL has not given us any signal that they're prepared to negotiate a compromise that can work for both sides. If this process is to move forward, it is now up to the NHL to make a proposal that would be of interest to the players.''

Neither side appears ready to alter its previous offers.

''I'm not going to say that it's out of the question that we would reach out to them because, obviously, we want to forge a new agreement,'' Daly said. ''But it doesn't sit with us to have to come back and negotiate against ourselves.''

During the last lockout that disrupted the 1994-95 season, an agreement was reached on Jan. 11, 1995, allowing for a 48-game season that began nine days later.

If the season is wiped out, it would mark the first time in 86 years that the Stanley Cup wasn't awarded. A flu epidemic canceled the 1919 final series between Montreal and Seattle.

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