- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Cracks started to appear in the armor of the NHL Players Association, but they were quickly patched yesterday.

NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow and members of his staff addressed 75 union members in Toronto during an informational meeting that seemed to strengthen solidarity.

As a result, the gap between the players and the league appears to be widening and there doesn’t appear to be any quick fix.

The owners’ lockout is now 49 days old, there has been no official contact between the sides since Sept.9 and none are on tap. It is thought the Feb.13 All-Star Game in Atlanta will be canceled in about two weeks with a drop-dead date for the season possible in mid-December.

“I think every one is concerned that there won’t be a season; in fact, many people don’t expect there will be [a season],” Goodenow said at a press conference after meeting with player reps and rank-and-file for more than four hours at a Toronto hotel. “I’m hopeful there will be, but I have to tell you there’s a real chance there won’t be.”

The NHL had no comment to Goodenow’s remarks.

The meeting was called, the union said, to pass information along to the membership, some of whom were openly criticizing its leadership for the lack of negotiations. Goodenow blamed that on NHL commissioner Gary Bettman who, the union leader said, is refusing to negotiate unless the NHLPA agrees to his demands.

“Let’s deal with reality here for a few seconds,” Goodenow said. “The reality is that the marketplace is exactly what the owners have set it to be. And if they have over set it, then we fully expect, and it is necessary, that they reset it. And they can do that under the current system.”

Goodenow said he was “hopeful there would be a season,” but cautioned several times that the lack of activity might force the season’s cancellation. He also pointed out there was no guarantee there would be a 2005-06 campaign.

“At some point a decision will be made where Gary [Bettman] will say, ‘Let’s talk about a compromise solution, let’s talk about something that’s fair.’ And if that’s not the case, then Gary will cancel the season. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to have some conversation like that down the road,” Goodenow said.

Several players voiced concern about the lack of negotiations but apparently Goodenow and some veteran players mollified those concerns.

“There’s absolutely no crack or divisiveness,” Goodenow said. “We have 700 members and 700 members sometimes will have different opinions. There’s never a chance that all 700 would agree or disagree on something but I can tell you unequivocally that the player reps who were in the room today totally understand the position of the players association. To suggest there is an issue there would be a mischaracterization of reality.”

“It was nice to come here and learn a lot about the issues,” said Pierre Dagenais of the Montreal Canadiens, who had said earlier he felt the low-end players were an afterthought in the bargaining. “Now I know the union is not trying to negotiate a deal for the high-end guys. They’re doing it for everyone.”

At least four teams — Washington, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Minnesota — were not represented at the meeting. Washington, Pittsburgh and San Jose have no player reps, the Minnesota rep is playing in Europe during the work stoppage.

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