No end in sight for NHL lockout

Posted: Friday, September 24, 2004

NEW YORK It's been a week without progress in the NHL lockout. So far, there have been no overtures from the league or the players to resume talks to save a season that is already starting to slip away.

Not since the players' association made a proposal Sept. 9 have the sides been in contact, much less sat down at a negotiating table. The final six days of the old collective bargaining agreement passed with no movement, and commissioner Gary Bettman imposed the lockout when the deal expired Sept. 15. Training camps were supposed to open the next day but didn't. And ever since, NHL teams have been calling off preseason games and the opening few games of the regular season, scheduled to start Oct. 13.

It's the third time an NHL season has been interrupted by a labor dispute; this might end up being a much longer lockout than the one that lasted 103 days and cut the 1994-95 season to 48 games.

''I would hope that at some point they would view it as in their court to reach out and call us and get something going again,'' said Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer.

Clubs have been given permission to release previously booked dates for games on a 30-day rolling basis. So every day that passes will knock another possible playing date off the calendar.

The only talking that's taken place recently involved media interviews.

Both Daly and NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin appeared on U.S. and Canadian telecasts of the final game of the World Cup of Hockey last week in Toronto. They shared the same cramped broadcast booths and stated their cases, but left without direct discussion.

''As I see it, the last proposal was made by us, so I'm not quite clear why the ball is in our court,'' Saskin said.

Bettman took part in a town-meeting telecast on Canadian television Tuesday. NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow presented the union's position in a similar format Wednesday. But neither side seems ready to reach out and make another offer.

Already, more than 100 employees from the NHL's central staff of about 225 have lost their jobs.

''I feel for the people who work in the buildings, and the effect it has on the economy in a lot of places,'' Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman told The Canadian Press. ''It's going to have quite a trickle-down effect on a lot of people's lives, and that's the most unfortunate aspect.''

The NHLPA turned away six proposals by the league during the summer, rejecting them on the basis that each contained a salary-cap structure a notion the league disputed. That was followed by the union's luxury-tax offer that was quickly dismissed.

''It goes back to the same issue that just sitting in a room together isn't going to resolve it when there is such a philosophical divide between the respective positions,'' Saskin said. ''There's no real consensus on how to find the common ground.''

Owners claim teams lost $273 million in 2002-03 and $224 million last season. The NHLPA doesn't believe those numbers.

The players say that the NHL will only listen to deals that contain a salary cap, and the union is adamant it will never offer or accept that.

The NHL said that the players' last proposal, structured around a luxury tax, was not worth even discussing. Bettman closed the last negotiating session by saying the sides ''weren't speaking the same language.''

''I think it's incumbent on both sides to consider the situation and be as creative as we can be in moving the process forward,'' Daly said. ''I'm not taking the onus off our side necessarily to continue this process at some point, it's just we are somewhat frustrated with where we find ourselves.''

Going on TV or engaging in point-counterpoint discussions via other media might spin the message for the public, but both sides agree it won't get a deal done.

''I don't know that it serves much benefit other than an opportunity for people to hear the perspectives,'' Saskin said. ''I don't think they are intended to further the collective bargaining process.''

While the fight is making front-page news and being discussed on national television broadcasts in Canada, it has hardly registered with U.S. sports fans, who are following baseball's playoff races and the starts of the NFL and college football seasons.

''The impact of this owners' lockout on U.S. markets is going to be devastating,'' Saskin said. ''The apparent indifference in certain U.S. markets speaks volumes as to how they're going to respond to a prolonged period without NHL hockey.''

Subscribe to Peninsula Clarion

Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us