Daly: 'I can't say we're any closer'

Updated: January 21, 2005, 11:11 PM ET
Associated Press

After two days of negotiations, the NHL and the players' association appeared no closer to a deal that could save the hockey season.

Guerin Speaks Out
NHLPA vice president Bill Guerin talked with hosts John Seibel and Fred Coleman on ESPN Radio's GameNight on Friday.

Q: How'd the meetings go today?
A: It was different after the first night. I think we were a little optimistic because Trevor (Linden, NHLPA president) relayed that the meetings went well. A lot of different ideas were exchanged. &Things the second day dramatically changed. It just doesn't look good right now.

Q: How was it different than the first day?
A: There just wasn't as much listening. It was basically our way or the highway-type thing. This is what we need, what we want, what we get. For us, it just doesn't work. Like Trevor said, we can only do so much. We've reached out to the NHL a couple of times and tried to get this thing moving forward with negotiation, and they haven't shown the will to negotiate yet. It's been pretty much a one-way street.

Q: Are the players surprised they've come to this?
A: Definitely not. We've been hearing this for a couple of years now. We were told to prepare for the worst and hopefully everybody has looked after themselves financially and socked some money away and been ready for this. It's apparent that's what the ownership wants, and it seems like we're headed that way.

Q: How resolute are the players that no collective bargaining agreement will include the words salary cap?
A: We're very strong on that. We've very resolved. That's been our stance all along. We've made it clear. We knew this was going to be a fight coming into it. We just don't believe the salary cap is the right way to go. It's unhealthy for players. We believe it's healthy for the league, and teams should be able to spend what they feel within reason.

The problem for the salary cap in hockey is in other sports you can have a good defense, a good QB and two good receivers and have a chance. You can be 6-8 and have a chance to make the playoffs. In hockey you need 26 guys. You can' t have three players on a hockey team and have a chance, and that's what they want to do. They want to spread everybody out. It just doesn't work.

Q: Is Gary Bettman the right commissioner?
A: That's not for me to say. He's their commissioner. He's hired by them so they feel he's capable. I don't think he's a hockey guy. I don't think he knows as much of the sport as he leads on or he doesn't know as much about his players as he might think, but that's just my opinion.

Q: If this drags into next year, and you end up caving in, well, people are going to say, 'Why didn't you do that last year?' At what point can the owners dictate the rules?
A: The ownership is so far into it, they might as well go all in. We're in the same boat. We're all in, too. If we go back now it'll be suicidal for players. What they feel is right is worse than a football-type salary cap, and football is horrible. I don't personally believe it works for football because it's terrible for their players, and it would be worse for hockey.

Q: How are older and younger players reacting?
A: They're all reacting kind of the same. The same result, just a different thought. A lot of older players say, 'I've had a good run at it, I've had a good kick at the can, and I'm ready to fight this battle. If I lose a year of my career, so be it.' The younger guys say, 'If we agree to this, I'm screwed for the rest of the career.' There's no earning power, so many restrictions. You might as well fight this early in your career and get what you can. It is a shame that the game isn't being played right now and the fans are being cheated. It's unfortunately guys like Mark Messier are being cheated. Hopefully we can get something done in time for a guy like Mike Messier to go out the way he should -- in style and playing the game that he's been so great at.

Representatives from the NHL and the players' association met for 4½ hours Thursday in Toronto, the second straight day the sides held discussions in an attempt to end the four-month lockout.

The sides also held a five-hour meeting in Chicago on Wednesday, ut they remained divided on the idea of cost certainty, a concept he players' association says is an unacceptable salary cap.

As was the case on Wednesday, there were breaks in the negotiations so each group could huddle separately.

"We've had two good days of communication," Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer said. "But we still have very strong philosophical differences.

"I can't say we're any closer," he said.

Daly said the two-day session was "the best dynamic to date in this process," but the only thing the sides appeared to agree on was that they are still far apart.

"We clearly have some strong differences of opinion that we've had for some time," said Ted Saskin, the players' association senior director. "We continue to look for ways to bridge the gaps. We have not been successful in doing so.

"We have no current future meetings scheduled, but the lines of communications continue to be open," he said.

More than half of the regular season -- 671 of 1,230 games through Thursday -- has been wiped out so far, plus the All-Star Game.

This latest setback again pushes to the forefront the possibility that there will be no hockey played this season.

"We all know time is not an ally," Saskin said.

If the season is wiped out, the Stanley Cup wouldn't be awarded for the first time since 1919, when a flu epidemic canceled the final series between Seattle and Montreal. The NHL would then become the first major North American sports league to lose an entire season because of a labor dispute.

There was hope that progress could be made this time without the presence of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Bob Goodenow, who were kept out of the meeting in an attempt to have discussions without acrimony that has built up between the two leaders.

This two-day meeting marked just the third time the league and players' association held face-to-face talks since the lockout was imposed Sept. 15.

"Obviously, everybody understands that the window of time we have in terms of playing hockey this season is very short, so hopefully we can have some more discussions," Daly said.

Each side had a three-man team in place on Wednesday, and the only change Thursday was the absence of Calgary Flames part-owner Harley Hotchkiss.

"We didn't reach an agreement. We didn't exchange proposals, nor was that the intention," Saskin said. "The intention was to have dialogue which we did achieve here."

Union president and Vancouver Canucks center Trevor Linden initiated the talks with Hotchkiss on Wednesday, and enough progress was made quickly enough to schedule a second meeting. But that good feeling appeared to be somewhat lost in Toronto, the same place talks broke off last month.

"I think everybody knows the players have been very interested in finding a basis on how we can move forward," Saskin said. "We recognize that to do so we have to do it through discussions, and that's why Trevor started this initiative."

Daly joined Hotchkiss and outside counsel Bob Batterman in representing the NHL on Wednesday; Linden, Saskin and outside counsel John McCambridge represented the players.

"There was more of a give and take about elements of the system and the way it operates and the leverage points," Daly said. "I give Trevor Linden a lot of credit, enormous credit, for getting us together.

"I think the dynamic of the last two days has been the best dynamic we've had to date," he said.

Hotchkiss didn't go to Toronto because he was attending the funeral in Calgary of J.R. (Bud) McCaig, another member of the Flames' ownership group who died last week. Saskin took part in Thursday's meeting, despite the death of his mother a day earlier.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press