- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2004

Twenty hours of negotiations this week in the NHL’s fractured labor talks again produced no progress, leaving the state of pro hockey in disarray just 12 days before the current deal expires.

NHL executives and union officials met Tuesday, Wednesday and yesterday in Montreal, one of the sites for the ongoing World Cup of Hockey. But after a detailed examination of the finances of each NHL club, a procedure done at the union’s request, the warring sides finished no closer to an agreement.

“We continue to be frustrated and concerned that instead of using the short time available to us to talk about potential solutions to our problems, we have been using it to revisit subject matter we have been discussing for the last five years,” said Bill Daly, NHL executive vice president.

Without a new deal in place Sept.15, the owners will impose a lockout that is widely expected to last at least several months and perhaps the entire season.

Daly significantly toned down the anger of his public comments on the labor talks from last week, when he said the union was engaging in a “charade” and a “filibuster.” But he renewed his call for a new proposal from the union. The players last made a formal offer on a new labor deal 11 months ago, and Daly said he received assurances from the union that the review of team finances over the past two weeks was designed to help formulate a new proposal.

Union officials, however, refused to put a timetable on any potentially forthcoming offer.

“They know we’re not going to propose a salary cap. That’s what they want, and that’s unacceptable to us,” said Ted Saskin, NHL Players Association senior director. “We have to create a proper environment to present a proposal, and we’re not in that environment.”

The two sides will be meet again next week, but no specific dates have been scheduled.

The Montreal talks were the sixth set of formal negotiations since May, but each side remains worlds apart from the other on the fiscal future of the sport. Owners are desperate to end a current situation in which they claim nearly $2billion in fiscal losses in the last decade due to what they perceive as a lack of “cost certainty” and more than 75 percent of all revenues pouring out to player payrolls. Players and union leaders dispute the talk of financial distress and want to see the existing framework remain as much as possible.

Management proposed in July six different concepts for a new structure, ranging widely from a centralized league compensation system, not unlike what is used in Major League Soccer, to an objective, statistically based model to compute player pay.

The union quickly rejected each as a de facto salary cap.

“The players are ready to sit out as long as it takes to get a fair deal,” Saskin said. “They are not going to be pushed around into accepting an unfair deal through an owners’ lockout.”

The players’ offer from last October conversely focused on a luxury tax and revenue sharing, similar to the structure used in Major League Baseball, and a 5 percent rollback in all player salaries. Owners, too, rejected that in short order, believing the system did not provide enough guarantees of monetary savings.

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