- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Representatives from the NHL and the players union met yesterday for the first time in weeks and produced what might be the first positive news since the lockout began Sept. 15: The dialogue was so good they have decided to meet again.

The meeting in a lounge at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport lasted nearly five hours with several breaks for individual caucuses. The two sides planned to meet again today in Toronto.

The meeting was requested by Trevor Linden, a center for the Vancouver Canucks and president of the NHL Players Association. At Linden’s request, the league was represented by Harley Hotchkiss, chairman of the NHL board of governors and owner of the Calgary Flames.

Specifically not present were Bob Goodenow, executive director of the players union, and Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL. The two men do not get along, and that could be one of the reasons there has been little or no actual negotiations until yesterday.

“We credit Trevor Linden’s initiative in requesting this session, which was informal, open and professional and which resulted in a constructive exchange of viewpoints,” Hotchkiss said.

Said Linden, a former Washington Capital: “We engaged in good dialogue today and will continue our discussions in the near future. We will not make any further comment at this time.”

The lockout, 127 days old, is the longest disruption of play in league history. The previous longest happened 10 years ago, a lockout that lasted 103 days. By coincidence, the 1994-95 season started 10 years ago today, a season shortened to 48 games in a 72-day period.

More than half of this season’s 1,230 games already have gone by the boards; the All-Star Game, also canceled, was to have been played in two weeks in Atlanta. More than 350 of the locked-out players are competing for European teams, with that number growing as it appears more likely the season will be canceled. Another 200 or so are playing in one of the North American minor leagues.

What is at stake is saving perhaps a tiny portion of the 2004-05 season. There already is speculation the league could produce a season as short as 24 games, down from 82, and then have a normal playoff campaign.

Also at the Chicago meeting for the union were Ted Saskin, senior director of the NHLPA, and outside counsel John McCambridge. Representing the NHL besides Hotchkiss were Bill Daly, executive vice president of the league, and outside counsel Robert Batterman.

“We appreciate the initiative Linden took in arranging this meeting,” Daly said. “The parties had a good, candid dialogue, and we intend to talk again. Out of respect for the process, we have no further comment at this time.”

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