Labor talks looking bleak

Posted: Tuesday, February 01, 2005

NEW YORK — The NHL and the players' association are now disputing whether they have anything to talk about.

The sides have had just limited contact by phone since Thursday, when the league presented more salary-cap concepts in an effort to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. But even that talking stopped Monday, leaving even less optimism that the hockey season could be saved.

Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer, expected to hear from the players' association on Monday, but that call never came.

''I'm somewhat surprised that I haven't heard from the players' association today,'' Daly told The Canadian Press on Monday. ''We broke up on Thursday and both agreed to keep the lines of communication open.

''I'm expecting that at some point we'll hear back from them with respect to some of the concepts that we discussed on Thursday night.''

Ted Saskin, the NHLPA's senior director, said Daly shouldn't have expected a response from the union regarding the new concepts because they still reflect the salary-cap position of the league.

That is an option the union vows it will never accept.

''Bill knows that the concepts they discussed with us on Thursday would not form the basis for an agreement, so he should not be surprised that he hasn't heard from us,'' Saskin said. ''We were very clear on Thursday that we would not be negotiating over his proposed concepts.''

The NHL is committed to achieving cost certainty that would provide a link between league revenues and player costs. The players' association has refused to accept that as a solution to end the lockout that reached 138 days on Monday and has forced the cancellation of 747 of the 1,230 regular-season games and this year's All-Star game.

The entire season might be the next thing to go.

After four meetings in three cities the past two weeks, the sides haven't been able to figure out when to get together again or what to discuss.

''They raised issues on Thursday which indicated that they continued to have problems with the approach that we were presenting,'' Daly said. ''It certainly gave me no cause of optimism. And the fact that we've gone another four days without hearing from them also doesn't give me cause for optimism.''

The last meeting, on Thursday in New York, featured discussions between Daly, New Jersey Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, board of governors chairman Harley Hotchkiss and outside counsel Bob Batterman on the league side; and Saskin, Vancouver Canucks center Trevor Linden, and outside counsel John McCambridge, representing the players' association.

Linden, the NHLPA president, initiated the smaller-meeting concept a week earlier as a way to hold discussions without NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Bob Goodenow. The respective leaders were viewed in some circles as being a hindrance to a potential solution.

But the philosophical differences that existed between the league and the players on Sept. 16 — the first day of the lockout — are still there 4 1/2 months later.

Both sides have acknowledged that time is running out on the season, even if the NHL hasn't announced a drop-dead date.

''It's not about the calendar in terms of doing a deal,'' Daly said. ''We're going to have to keep negotiating regardless of whether we can play hockey this season.

''Having said that, it is true that tomorrow is Feb. 1 and each hour that goes by makes it more unlikely that there's going to be hockey this season.''

Daly didn't promise that the league would officially cancel the season, instead of letting it quietly run out, but he did expect that an announcement would come at an appropriate time if it is lost completely.

There are no signs that either side will soften its stance anytime soon, and certainly not in time to prevent the NHL from becoming the first major North American sports league to lose a full season to a labor dispute.



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