Talks break down; no new meetings scheduled

Updated: February 11, 2005, 1:45 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The NHL and the players' association broke off talks Thursday as the clock ticked down to a weekend deadline for saving what little is left of the season.

"I can tell you unequivocally and without a doubt that we are done," NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly told The Associated Press on Thursday night.

"Without a change in position by the union, the season will be canceled," Daly said. "There will be no further contact with the union before the season is canceled unless they reach out to us."

That isn't likely to happen.

"We're not going to pick up the phone this weekend," union senior director Ted Saskin said after the four-hour meeting. "We're done."

It was the second straight day of meetings in Toronto aimed at ending the lockout, but the first full session since commissioner Gary Bettman told the union Wednesday that a deal would need to be ready by the weekend to save the season.

And it went just as poorly as the other negotiating sessions in the five-month lockout. If the deadline was set to pressure the players' association to give in to the league's salary-cap demand, it hasn't worked so far.

"We were not deadline hunting in any way," Saskin said.

Daly said the union brought nothing new to Thursday's meeting.

"Quite frankly, I don't know why they asked us to stay overnight," Daly said. "I don't know what their agenda was. I just know there was no progress."

During the meeting at the league's office in Canada, the sides spent 2½ hours huddling separately.

"It was a pointless meeting," Daly said after the session.

No new meetings were scheduled, and Daly and Bettman immediately returned to New York to prepare for a normal work day Friday.

That won't be easy because every indication is that it will be the last business day before the NHL becomes the first major North American sports league to lose an entire season to a labor dispute.

"Since no material progress has been made, and we're within days of having to cancel the season, you're hit with the realization of what you have to do," Daly said.

He gave no encouragement that a deal could come in time.

"I don't know I'd say I'm surprised," he said. "I'm disappointed. I hoped that at the end of the day that reason would prevail, that we'd be able to find common ground, and that we'd reach an agreement. That hasn't happened."

The lockout has wiped out 824 of the 1,230 regular-season games through Thursday, as well as this weekend's scheduled All-Star game. If the season is canceled, there is no telling when there will be NHL hockey again.

"I have no idea as I sit here today," Saskin said.

Daly said the league had gone as far at it could, and reiterated that the players' association would not give in to the league's demand of a link between revenues and player costs.

The sides have been assisted by mediators -- as recently as last week in Newark, N.J. -- but neither felt that was how a deal would be worked out.

"This isn't a negotiation that failed due to a lack of understanding," Daly said. "This is a negotiation that has failed for other reasons. I don't think a mediator would help in this process."

On Wednesday, the NHL presented the idea that a new deal be made using the players' association's proposal from Dec. 9 that included a luxury-tax system and a 24 percent salary rollback on existing contracts.

But if any one of four financial conditions set forth by the league were exceeded, then the NHL's salary-cap offer from last week would go into effect the following season. Teams would then be forced to spend at least $32 million on player costs but no more than $42 million, including benefits.

Players' association executive director Bob Goodenow said that at least one of the four limits would immediately be exceeded if this deal was put in place, and others could be easily reached.

Saskin called the proposal a public relations "gimmick" and the idea wasn't revisited during Thursday's meeting. The players' association has steadfastly refused to accept a salary cap as a solution to the stalemate.

The NHL also put some more specific numbers to their revenue-sharing proposal, and Saskin said it was in the $80 million range of a $2 billion pie.

Saskin said those numbers showed that teams are not willing to enter into partnerships with each other let alone with the players' association.

"I think it's been very clear from Day 1 that this has never been about having a negotiation," Saskin said. "They have made it clear they have only one way of doing things and that's through their hard-cap system.

"There are clearly other ways to reduce player costs but they have not been prepared too look at any other way. The writing has been on the wall for some time."


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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