- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

The dueling sides in the bitter NHL labor dispute met for four hours in New York yesterday, agreeing on nothing and issuing terse statements as they left.

“The parties met again today for approximately four hours, and the discussions broke off with no progress to report,” said Ted Saskin, a senior director of the NHL Players Association.

Said Bill Daly, chief legal officer of the league: “We had extensive and constructive talks over the past two days. While no future meetings are scheduled, we have agreed to keep the lines of communication open.”

Daly did dispose of a persistent rumor that the league was on the verge of canceling the season in its entirety.

“We have no intention of making any further announcement relating to collective bargaining or the status of the season at this time,” Daly’s statement said.

But different interpretations cropped up immediately over what took place during 13 hours of meetings Thursday and yesterday in New York. While Daly termed the discussions “constructive,” the head of the NHLPA didn’t feel that way.

“We met the last couple days, tried to cover some issues and maybe a few new issues to see if there was a possibility of some common ground and some traction, but that isn’t the case,” Bob Goodenow, executive director of the union, said after yesterday’s meeting. “The parties agreed to stay in touch, but there’s really no progress to report of any type. That’s the reality.”

Today is the 143rd day of the owners’ lockout, the longest work stoppage in league history. So far, 63 percent of the scheduled 1,230 games have been canceled, and the time frame for squeezing in any kind of a season has shrunk dramatically. The league’s All-Star Game was to have been Feb. 13 in Atlanta, but that became a victim of the lockout Nov. 3.

“We’re really at the end with respect to playing hockey this season,” Daly said in a conference call Wednesday. When asked whether it were possible to play a truncated regular season that might be shorter than the playoffs, he did not rule that out.

In this week’s two sessions, the parties talked and finally negotiated after weeks of brief meetings that usually involved one side making a proposal and the other quickly rejecting it.

The critical stumbling block has not changed: management’s insistence on what it terms “cost certainty” — a hard salary cap tying payroll to revenue. The league wants to reduce what it claims is the players’ 75 percent share of revenue to something much closer to a 50-50 split. The players maintain the NHL’s accounting does not include all sources of revenue, making the losses the league says it has sustained in recent years inaccurate.

The players, who have proposed a luxury tax system similar to the one used by Major League Baseball, offered to take a 24 percent salary reduction on all existing contracts. All proposals have been rejected, though the league did not rule out the massive salary reduction offer the players made.

“[The league has] been fixated on only one approach to reducing labor costs,” Saskin said in his conference call Wednesday, not feeling it necessary to mention a salary cap. “Things have not changed.”

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