NHL Cancels Board of Governors Meeting

Friday, January 7th 2005, 8:59 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ After labor negotiations broke down last month, there was nothing left for the NHL and the players' association to talk about. Now the league doesn't even have any news to share with its board of governors.

A meeting scheduled for next week between commissioner Gary Bettman and executives from all 30 teams was called off Thursday because the planned update session proved to be pointless.

``Since there has been no progress since we scheduled it, it's not surprising that we chose to cancel it,'' NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly told The Associated Press on Thursday night.

Owners and players haven't sat down at the bargaining table since last month, when the sides met twice within six days.

``There was clearly a hope, if not an expectation, that we'd be further along than we are,'' Daly said. ``We were hopeful that progress could continue to be made, that hopefully the union would come forward with a new proposal.

``I think that is appropriate given the fact that they rejected our counterproposal after only a matter of hours of consideration. The fact that they didn't is unfortunate.''

The board of governors hasn't met since September, when Bettman imposed the lockout that reached its 113th day on Thursday and has forced the cancellation of 571 regular-season games and the 2005 All-Star game.

There was speculation that Bettman might emerge from next Friday's scheduled meeting either with an announcement that this season had been called off, or with a final date for saving the season.

``There's not going to be a drop-dead date,'' Daly said. ``We believe the only important thing is a negotiated agreement that will work for the sport and the industry long-term.

``When we're past the point of no return, I think an appropriate announcement will be made. But we're not going to give that announcement in advance.''

There were also rumors that the NHL might have come up with a new proposal that it wanted to run by the board of governors before presenting it to the players. Daly dispelled that notion.

No North American sports league has lost an entire season to a labor dispute, but the NHL is moving dangerously close to becoming the first.

The sides traded barbs, saying the other was responsible for keeping the game shut down.

``I don't know of anyone who believes that the NHL has made one bona fide proposal aimed at a settlement that could work for both sides,'' NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin said. ``Collective bargaining negotiations should involve reasonable attempts by both parties to find middle ground. To date, the NHL has not given us any signal that they're prepared to negotiate a compromise that can work for both sides. If this process is to move forward, it is now up to the NHL to make a proposal that would be of interest to the players.''

Not so, says Daly.

``It's been the union that has steadfastly refused to negotiate in good faith over the last six years to correct an economic system that clearly has not worked and has endangered the future of the sport,'' he said.

If the NHL's idea was to pressure the players' association to come up with a new offer in a last-ditch effort to save the season, it didn't appear to work.

``I'm sure the reason it was called off was there was no reason to have a meeting,'' said Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, New Jersey's representative on the board of governors. ``Our commissioner never has a meeting just for the sake of having a meeting.''

The players' association got talks restarted in December, after three months of silence, with a proposal centered on a 24 percent salary rollback on existing contracts. Owners rejected that plan and countered with a salary-cap structured offer.

The NHLPA quickly turned that down and remained adamant that it would never accept a salary cap. The union's offer featured a luxury tax and revenue-sharing system.

Bettman said he has no interest in any kind of luxury tax.

``I'm not going to say that it's out of the question that we would reach out to them because, obviously, we want to forge a new agreement,'' Daly said. ``But it doesn't sit with us to have to come back and negotiate against ourselves.''

During the last lockout that disrupted the 1994-95 season, an agreement was reached on Jan. 11, 1995, allowing for a 48-game season that began nine days later.

If the season is wiped out, it would mark the first time in 86 years that the Stanley Cup wasn't awarded. A flu epidemic canceled the 1919 final series between Montreal and Seattle.