- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The NHL’s troubled labor situation descended further into a bleak void yesterday as union officials formally rejected all six proposals presented last month by management.

League officials presented the six concepts in the hope of achieving their goal of “cost certainty” and stemming fiscal losses they say have approached $2billion in the last decade. But union officials continue to characterize all six as some form of a much-hated salary cap, leaving little hope the 2004-05 season will begin on time.

The labor deal expires Sept.15, just 28 days away. Without a new deal, NHL owners will lock the players out, cancel training camps and put the season on hold indefinitely.

“I can’t report we made any progress today, because we didn’t,” said Bill Daly, NHL executive vice president, following a five-hour session yesterday in Newark, N.J. “They were very clear that they’re not amenable to any of those proposals, so they’ve been rejected.”

The owners’ ideas varied widely, ranging from an actual hard cap similar to ones used in the NFL and NBA to a model more akin to Major League Soccer in which management would assume all negotiations of player compensation.

The two sides have met four times since late May, but each session found one side essentially talking past the other. Owners desperately want a radical change to hockey’s economic order and a rollback from the 76 percent cut of revenues the league says goes to players. Union leaders, suspicious of management claims of fiscal distress, want a continuation of the free market-based system that has produced a historic escalation in salaries.

After the union issued its rejection, the sides spoke at length about the state of hockey economics and league operations.

“We don’t think that just throwing proposals out there is necessarily going to advance the process,” said Ted Saskin, union senior director of business affairs. “We need to get to a common understanding and find some common ground, and that’s really what we’re trying to do.”

Union leaders have not yet made any counterproposal to management’s six concepts from last month, though Saskin said yesterday one would be coming “at the appropriate time.” Last fall, the union proposed a luxury tax system similar to one used in Major League Baseball, but the league quickly rejected that idea, believing there were not enough guarantees of cost savings.

Four new negotiating days were scheduled yesterday: Aug.25-26 in Ottawa and Aug.31-Sept.1 in Montreal. The Montreal dates are the beginning of the World Cup of Hockey, a joint effort between the NHL and players union that will run through Sept.14.

But hope for a quick resolution remains slim.

“We’re now inside of 30 days, and every day that passes off the calendar does give me greater concern that we need to start making real progress toward a resolution,” Daly said. “But we still seem to be in a position that anything that doesn’t look like the status quo is going to be characterized by the union as a salary cap.”

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