Season could be called Jan. 14

Updated: December 29, 2004, 1:42 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The NHL board of governors will meet next month, when commissioner Gary Bettman could seek permission to call off the 2004-05 season.

Top officials from the 30 clubs will gather on Jan. 14 with Bettman, the league confirmed Wednesday. If a collective bargaining agreement hasn't been reached with the players' association by then, the lockout will probably cause the cancelation of the 2004-05 season.

Bettman has so far resisted announcing a drop-dead date to call off the entire season.

"I can't confirm any particular agenda for that meeting," Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer, told The Associated Press in an e-mail. "I think it would be premature to do that, and quite frankly, unfair to the process."

When the group got together on Sept. 15, Bettman was given the go-ahead to impose the lockout.

Bettman has remained steadfast that he is committed to making the right deal that will provide cost certainty to clubs. If that agreement comes in time to play a respectable season, then the league will do so.

"The calendar is not an issue. It's about making the right deal," Bettman said earlier this month.

As of Wednesday, the lockout was 98 days old and had forced the cancelation of 470 regular-season games and the 2005 All-Star game.

Whether there is an official cancelation date or not, time is clearly running short to make a deal and play a legitimate season. The lockout during the 1994-95 season ended on Jan. 11 and allowed for a 48-game season.

The NHL has told its arenas that dates can be released on a 45-day rolling basis, which would already carry into February.

No North American sports league has lost an entire season to a labor dispute, and the Stanley Cup has been awarded every year since 1919 when a flu epidemic wiped out the final series between Montreal and Seattle.

The league and the players' association met twice within a week earlier this month, but no progress was made and no new talks have been scheduled.

The NHLPA invited the league back to the bargaining table on Dec. 9, for the first talks in three months, and proposed a deal that featured an across-the-board 24 percent salary rollback.

That offer was rejected four days later by owners, who said it was a one-time fix and not a long-term solution to correct the league's financial problems.

The NHL countered with a proposal that was based on a salary cap, guaranteeing a link between league revenues and player costs, that was quickly turned down by the union.

A salary cap is an option the NHLPA says it will never accept. In turn, Bettman said he has no interest in any kind of luxury tax proposed by the players.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press