NEW YORK For the first time in more than a month, a group of officials from the NHL and the players' association will meet Wednesday in what could be a last-ditch effort to save the hockey season.
''We think it is appropriate and hopefully useful to engage in these discussions at this time,'' Ted Saskin, the union's senior director, said Monday. ''We are not meeting to present a new proposal and remain committed to reaching a fair deal that does not include a salary cap.''
Monday marked the 124th day of the lockout. So far, the NHL has resisted announcing a drop-dead date in which a collective bargaining agreement must be made to save this season. But with 650 regular-season games plus this year's All-Star game, already canceled, it appears that time is short to make a deal.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and players' association executive director Bob Goodenow, who have butted heads throughout the process, are expected to sit out this session. The idea to meet in a smaller group was hatched by players' association president Trevor Linden.
Linden, Saskin and outside counsel John McCambridge will represent the players. Calgary Flames part owner Harley Hotchkiss, the chairman of the NHL's board of governors; Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer; and outside counsel Bob Batterman, will be present for the owners.
The NHL is not expected to make a new proposal at the meeting, either.
The sides have not met since Dec. 14 when the NHL rejected the union's proposal made five days earlier. A counteroffer made by the league also was rejected by the players during that session in Toronto.
The players' association got talks restarted in December, after three months of silence, with a proposal centered on an immediate 24-percent salary rollback on all existing contracts. Owners rejected that plan and countered with a salary-cap structured offer.
The NHLPA is adamant that it will never accept a salary cap. The union's offer featured a luxury-tax and revenue-sharing system. Bettman has said that he has no interest in a luxury tax.
During the 103-day 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. No North American sports league has lost an entire season due to a labor dispute.
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