No formal proposals will be presented
NEW YORK -- The NHL and the players' association held negotiations Wednesday afternoon at an undisclosed location in Toronto.
The two sides plan to meet again either Thursday or Friday in New York. The specific site is not known. There was no early word on how the meetings went, nor who will attend the next session.
During a two-day meeting last week in Chicago and Toronto, the sides tried to get together in secrecy but were unsuccessful. With time running out to save the hockey season, both parties believe they will have a better chance to get things accomplished if they can meet out of the public eye.
Just like last week, discussions continued in three-man groups and without commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Bob Goodenow.
Neither side planned to make a new proposal on Wednesday -- the 133rd day of the lockout -- because the participants want to generate ideas through an open dialogue instead of working on a formal proposal.
"I think the setup of these meetings is what's important in terms of the small-group dynamic, the open discussion and dialogue," NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly told The Associated Press on Tuesday night. "It's less formal or structured than the meetings we've had in the past, and I think that's helpful to the process."
"The players' association said that they felt like we should kind of work through possible joint solutions to this and at least hear what each other has to say," Daly said.
However, time is running short to make a deal and save the season.
"We're in a critical stage and that means we're down to days," he said. "We'll try to move the process forward and try to get a resolution."
NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin declined to comment until after Wednesday's meeting.
It was Vancouver center Trevor Linden who came up with the idea last week to talk with just six people in the room. Linden, the NHLPA president, invited Harley Hotchkiss -- the chairman of the board of governors -- to talk without Bettman and Goodenow.
"I think the meetings could be held just as well with Gary and Bob as they're being held without them," Daly said.
The structure was successful in generating ideas and discussion, but it did nothing to soften each side's stance or close the gap in the philosophical differences.
"The question is whether one or both sides can be creative in ways where both can achieve their objectives while remaining true to their principles," Daly said. "I continue to hope that that is a realistic possibility. If I didn't, I don't think we'd be meeting."
The NHL still wants cost certainty, a link between player costs and team revenues. The players' association wants a free-market system. Daly said he has no reason to believe that either side will change its position on Wednesday.
If the season is canceled, that will ultimately be the reason.
"The main issue continues to be the biggest, but we did have a discussion of all of the different elements of the system last week and I thought it was a useful discussion," Daly said. "We probably will touch on them again."
Daly said his negotiating team met this past weekend to discuss new ideas and address some issues raised by Linden. But it's going to take more than that to end the lockout that reached its 132nd day on Tuesday and has already forced the cancellation of 707 of the 1,230 regular-season games plus the 2005 All-Star Game.
"I'm not going to say that if we were to break off tomorrow, that would necessarily be the end," Daly said. "It's going to be something we continue to work on.
"Obviously, you're never really going to reach the end in terms of doing a deal because ultimately we're going to have to continue to sit down and work on a deal. The issue is whether you get past the point in which games can be played this season."
The same group of negotiators that met last week gathered again: Linden, Saskin and outside counsel John McCambridge as well as Daly, Hotchkiss -- a part-owner of the Calgary Flames -- and outside counsel Bob Batterman.
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 rejected in a matter of hours.
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, though, and Linden reportedly said 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.
The league invited the union to Wednesday's talks.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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