Clock ticks down on NHL season

Posted: Friday, February 04, 2005

NEW YORK — One day after the NHL players' association rejected the league's latest salary-cap proposal, the sides met again for about nine hours Thursday and planned to resume talks on Friday.

In what might have been the last chance to save the hockey season, the union invited commissioner Gary Bettman and players' association chief Bob Goodenow back to the table after the leaders sat out the previous five sessions during a two-week span.

''The meeting with the league has ended for this evening,'' said a statement released by the NHL Players' Association just before 11 p.m. ''The parties plan to meet again tomorrow.''

The NHL declined comment on what was being discussed, or if any progress was being made.

''A collective bargaining meeting between representatives of the National Hockey League and NHL Players' Association began Thursday afternoon and continued into Thursday night,'' the league said in a statement. ''In deference to the process, there will be no comment, and no further update is expected tonight.''

Players turned down the NHL's offer on Wednesday, sticking to their vow that they will never accept a salary cap. The fact that the sides remained together for so long a day later provided at least a glimmer of hope that perhaps a deal could be reached.

The 4 1/2-month lockout reached its 141st day on Thursday and has wiped out 772 regular-season games. The remainder of the schedule could be called off within days if significant progress isn't made quickly. Neither side expressed optimism Wednesday that philosophical differences could be bridged.

, but Bettman and Goodenow were needed in the room before any deal could possibly be reached. No major league in North America has lost an entire season to a labor dispute.

The NHL proposed a six-year deal that contained a cap that would force teams to spend at least $32 million on player costs but no more than $42 million — including benefits. The union needed only a few hours to turn it down.

There were other components to the offer, such as a profit-sharing plan, reduced age for unrestricted free agency, a raise of the minimum salary, and the continued conclusion of guaranteed contracts, but the issue has always been about a salary cap.

Bettman has said that teams lost a total of more than $1.8 billion over 10 years and that management will not agree to a deal without a defined relationship between revenue and salaries.

Last season's average salary was $1.8 million, and the NHL wants to push that back with a salary cap. The latest offer would give players between 53 and 55 percent of league revenues.

An economic study commissioned by the NHL found that players got 75 percent of revenues, but the union has challenged many of the league's findings.

The NHL has been operating under the same collective bargaining agreement since 1995, when the last lockout went 103 days before a 48-game season was played.

The Stanley Cup has been awarded every year since 1919, when a flu epidemic wiped out the final series between Montreal and Seattle.



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