NHL, Players Remain Far Apart As Talks End

Friday, January 28th 2005, 8:46 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Four meetings, three cities, and no deals. That sums up the past week in the NHL lockout. Talks between the NHL and the players' association broke down again Thursday night, leaving the sides still far apart and with no plans to meet again.

``We continue to have significant philosophical differences,'' NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin said Thursday night. ``No meetings are scheduled and we will not make further comment at this time.''

With the season on the brink of being canceled, negotiations resumed late Thursday afternoon in New York. For the second straight day, both sides were tightlipped about what was discussed or accomplished.

``We're going to continue to keep quiet on the status and substance of negotiations,'' NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly told The Associated Press in an e-mail following the meeting.

Seven representatives from the league and the union met for five hours at an undisclosed location following a 5 1/2-hour get-together a day earlier in Toronto. The small group format began last week when the sides sat down on consecutive days in Chicago and Toronto.

There was talk earlier in the day that the sides had left open the possibility of getting together again on Friday, but Daly told the AP that would not happen.

Taking commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Bob Goodenow out of the negotiating mix for this period has apparently done nothing to soften either side.

The lockout reached its 134th day Thursday and has forced the cancellation of 721 of the 1,230 regular-season games plus the All-Star game. If an agreement isn't reached soon, the NHL will likely become the first North American sports league to lose an entire season to a labor dispute.

For the second time this week, rumors swirled that the NHL was prepared to make another proposal to the players' association. Daly declined comment Thursday afternoon.

No offers have been revealed since mid-December when the union invited the league back to negotiations with a proposal that featured a 24 percent rollback of all existing contracts and a luxury-tax system.

The league countered five days later with a salary-cap structure, a concept the NHL is insisting on and one the players' association says it will never accept. The NHL wants a direct link between player salaries and league revenues.

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 to talks that started last Wednesday in Chicago and concluded the following day in Toronto. Hotchkiss missed the second meeting due to a funeral in Calgary.

The structure was successful in producing discussion, but it did nothing to close the gap in the philosophical differences.

New Jersey Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello joined Daly, Hotchkiss _ a part-owner of the Calgary Flames _ and outside counsel Bob Batterman on the NHL side in Toronto on Wednesday.

``I really don't have any comments,'' Lamoriello said in a phone interview from New Jersey on Thursday. ``When this process is on, I think the comments should come only from the people who are spokespeople.''

The players' association has kept its team of Linden, Saskin and outside counsel John McCambridge the same for all four small-group sessions.

So closely guarded are the smallest details from the league's latest round of talks with the players' association, that exactly what they've been talking about is anyone's guess.

The small-group format was created with the hope that the sides could find common ground that would lead to a new collective bargaining agreement.

So far, it hasn't worked.