- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

When news first leaked that the NHL’s board of governors was to meet in New York on Jan. 14, rumors began to circulate covering the entire spectrum of possibilities surrounding the labor dispute.

Yesterday the league announced the meeting had been canceled, igniting a new round of rumors as to the meaning of this latest development in the 113-day lockout, longest in league history.

In short, the league said, there was nothing to discuss. There had been no movement in the dispute, no announced contact between the two sides since each rejected the other’s most recent offers Dec. 14.

Commissioner Gary Bettman locked out the 700 players Sept. 15, demanding the NHL Players Association accept a hard salary cap before negotiations could begin. The union countered with a drastic one-time salary reduction and luxury tax proposals in place of a hard cap.

“After canvassing each of the 30 clubs and in light of the lack of developments or a new offer from the union, the clubs were unanimously of the view that there is no need for a meeting at this point in time,” said Bill Daly, NHL executive vice president and chief legal officer.

Replied union vice president Ted Saskin in a statement: “The canceling of the board of governors’ meeting is a league matter and not something the NHLPA will comment on.”

The collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and its union, reached in January 1995 to end a 103-day lockout, expired Sept. 15 after being extended twice.

What’s next? No one knows. There certainly has been enough time for reflection after the last series of joint rejections, but no additional proposals apparently are planned. Again, the two sides agree on only one thing: No more meetings are planned.

Through last night, 45 percent of the 1,230 scheduled games this season had been canceled, as well as the league’s showcase All-Star Game next month in Atlanta. About 300 NHL players have gone to Europe to play, and about 200 more are competing in the minors in North America. The union began distributing supplemental checks to members in December.

The December directive to clubs announcing the governors’ meeting was vague. It stated a date and city for the meeting but no time, no location and, perhaps most significantly, no agenda. That last factor triggered even more speculation about what might be going on, if anything, behind the scenes.

Among the more widespread rumors, none of which could be confirmed:

• A disgruntled group of owners was meeting privately in an effort to get negotiations started.

• Low-level secret meetings involving the two sides are ongoing with one of two goals, or possibly both: getting minor items on the very lengthy list of contract items settled, and/or preparing a framework that would bring the major players to the bargaining table.

• Bettman would forgo officially canceling the season so as to reinforce his position that an impasse exists, thus clearing the way for the NHL to approach legal authorities for a court-ordered settlement. If that proved the case, the union would go to court to challenge that position.

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