No deal yet, but labor talks will produce another meeting
There is no secret that time is running out to save the hockey season. How the NHL and the players association are working to prevent that has become
a very big mystery.
Representatives from both sides met in small groups for the third time in a week Wednesday. All that is known about the meeting is that it took place
somewhere in Toronto. The location was kept secret, and neither side would reveal what was discussed or if any progress was made.
The only news that came out was that more talks will take place soon.
"We will meet again this week," NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly said. "We have no further comment at this time."
Daly told the Associated Press on Tuesday that discussions were at a critical stage and that only days remained to reach a deal that would save the
season. The fact that more talks have been set up provided at least a glimmer of hope that the NHL won't become the first North American sports league
to lose an entire season to a labor dispute.
The lockout reached its 133rd day Wednesday and has wiped out 713 of the 1,230 regular-season games, plus the 2005 All-Star Game.
The small-group format began last week with the hope that the sides could find common ground that would lead to a new collective bargaining agreement.
All three sessions took place without commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Bob Goodenow.
During a two-day meeting last week in Chicago and Toronto, the sides tried to get together in secrecy but were unsuccessful. Both parties think they
will have a better chance of getting something accomplished if they can talk out of the public eye.
"After meeting today, we have agreed to continue discussions and will not be making any further comment at this time," players association senior
director Ted Saskin said.
Although no details were immediately available, neither side planned to make a new proposal Wednesday because the participants wanted to generate
ideas through an open dialogue instead of working on a formal proposal.
"I think the setup of these meetings is what's important in terms of the small-group dynamic, the open discussion and dialogue," Daly told the AP on
Tuesday night. "It's less formal or structured than the meetings we've had in the past, and I think that's helpful to the process."
But time is running short to make a deal and save the season.
"We're in a critical stage, and that means we're down to days," Daly said. "We'll try to move the process forward and try to get a resolution."
It was Vancouver center Trevor Linden who came up with the idea last week to talk with just six people in the room. Linden, the NHLPA president,
invited Harley Hotchkiss -- the chairman of the board of governors.
The structure was successful in producing discussion, but it did nothing to close the gap in the philosophical differences.
The NHL still wants cost certainty, a link between player costs and team revenues. The players' association wants a free-market system.
The same group that met last week gathered again: Linden, Saskin and outside counsel John McCambridge as well as Daly, Hotchkiss -- a part-owner of
the Calgary Flames -- and outside counsel Bob Batterman.
No proposals have been made since early December, when the players offered a 24 percent rollback on existing contracts as part of a luxury-tax and
revenue-sharing system. The NHL turned that down and made a counterproposal five days later that was rejected in a matter of hours.