League not expected to adjust labor proposal


NEW YORK -- The NHL and the players' association will resume talks this week in a bid to save the season -- and they'll meet yet again without commissioner Gary Bettman or union head Bob Goodenow.

"The league contacted our office to arrange for continued small-group discussions. We agreed to this request," NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin said Monday.

The league and the union will meet again Wednesday in Toronto. Contrary to some earlier reports, however, no formal proposal will be presented by the league.

The sides met twice last week without Bettman and Goodenow. Those meetings, over two days in Chicago and Toronto, were initiated by Vancouver Canucks center Trevor Linden, the NHLPA president.

Linden, Saskin and outside counsel John McCambridge represented the players. NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly, Calgary Flames part-owner Harley Hotchkiss and outside counsel Bob Batterman took part for the league.

The sides had hoped to sit down in secrecy. But word got out Monday that, just like last week, the same representatives from each side will meet Wednesday.

"We both believe that the process now will be better served by a less-public approach to the negotiation," Daly said in an e-mail statement.

``Both parties agreed at last week's meeting that the time for
formal proposals, at least during this process, may be behind us
and we should try to sit at the table and discuss through the
issues and maybe jointly craft something that might work,'' Daly
told The Canadian Press. ``And that's what we're going to continue
to do.''

The lockout reached its 132nd day Tuesday and already has forced the cancellation of 699 of 1,230 regular-season games, plus the All-Star Game.

No proposals have been made since early December, when the players offered a 24 percent rollback on all existing contracts as part of a luxury-tax and revenue-sharing system. The NHL turned that down and made a counterproposal five days later that was quickly rejected.

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.

Optimism was expressed last Wednesday after the first day of meetings when Linden and Hotchkiss had a chance to talk one-on-one. The good feeling didn't carry over to the next day, though, and Linden reportedly told players in a recorded message on the players' Web site that the NHL was still insisting on a salary cap and that the season would likely be canceled.

Daly said he was surprised that Linden came away from the meetings with that opinion because the NHL felt that some progress was made. But both sides admitted that there were still strong philosophical differences and they were still far apart on the
key issue.

The NHL wants the new deal to give clubs cost certainty -- a link between revenues and player costs. The union says that amounts to an unacceptable salary cap.