- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Ten years ago tomorrow, the NHL picked up where it left off the previous season, ending a 31/2-month lockout imposed by the owners.

There is no chance of that happening this time around, at least not tomorrow. The two sides in the current lockout — at more than four months old, the longest work stoppage in league history — have not met face-to-face since Dec.14. In fact, it’s hard to say the two sides have negotiated in the strict definition of the word; they have bumped into each other in hallways to exchange and reject proposals but have yet to sit across a table and discuss the issues.

That’s what today’s gathering in Chicago is all about. Trevor Linden, the Vancouver Canucks (and former Washington Capitals) center and president of the players union, is playing host to a meeting between three representatives of management and three from the union to try to bring the absent heads of both groups to the bargaining table. They will be negotiating — not about the labor dispute — but about a way to get the real talks started.

Conspicuously missing will be the two prime antagonists, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow, executive director of the players association. They pointedly have not been invited; having them present would be like starting a Girl Scout marshmallow roast with kerosene. Nonetheless, because the two key players will not be present, today’s talks will be just that — talk — but far better than the deafening silence that has gripped hockey for months.

Rumors are running wild, as is usually the case in work stoppages. There are reports a sizable number of players are ready to accept just about anything proposed by the league. On the other side, a group of a dozen or so owners reportedly is ready to challenge Bettman over his ironclad policy of a salary cap or nothing. Linden apparently wants to know what the league is willing to offer if the players approve some form of a hard cap.

Meanwhile, related problems continue to mount. The NHL’s puck supplier, InGlasCo of Sherbrooke, Que., has laid off half its 40 workers. The Boston Bruins have reduced the work week for front office employees to three days; Pittsburgh trimmed the work week by a day in September. And the Hockey News, the weekly publication devoted to covering the NHL, may cut back to a twice-a-month schedule.

In various leagues across Europe, nearly 350 NHL players were on rosters as of yesterday, a figure that grows by the day. Late last week Goodenow reportedly posted a notice to players on the union’s secure Web site advising them to take jobs in Europe for the remainder of this season and entertain offers for next season as well.

Speaking of Europe, Jaromir Jagr led his Russian team, Avangard Omsk, to a come-from-behind win over Karpat Oulu of Finland to win the first European Champions cup last weekend. Jagr set up the tying goal in the third period and scored the winner in overtime.

Brian Sutherby, the center the Caps took 26th overall in the 2000 draft, is out again for the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates with another groin injury, according to reports out of Maine. Sutherby missed most of last season while rehabbing an injured groin and has missed 17 games this season.

Sutherby has missed eight games in a row, while defenseman Steve Eminger, the Caps’ top pick in 2002, has returned to the lineup after missing three games with what is being described as that dreaded “lower body injury.” Eminger has missed 10 games altogether this season as the Pirates continue to struggle.

Meanwhile, Jonas Johansson, the right wing the Caps obtained in the deal that sent local favorite and team captain Steve Konowalchuk to Colorado in November 2003, has been demoted from Portland to South Carolina in the ECHL. Johansson had been a healthy scratch for the Pirates with three goals and seven points in 32 games to go with a minus-10 defensive rating.w

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