Bettman, Goodenow to take part in meeting

Updated: March 8, 2005, 3:06 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Now the NHL and the players' association will start trying to save next season.

Less than three weeks after commissioner Gary Bettman canceled the 2004-05 NHL season, he invited union executive director Bob Goodenow back to the bargaining table for talks this week.

Countless meetings and proposals weren't enough to end the lockout that began in September, so Bettman wants to get talks going as soon as possible before next season is put in jeopardy, too.

He contacted Goodenow late last week to request a meeting, and the players' association agreed to get together, NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly said in an e-mail to The Associated Press on Monday.

The date, time and location of the next round of talks wasn't announced.

It will be the first bargaining session since Feb. 19, when the sides met in a desperate attempt to save the season three days after Bettman canceled it. But even the presence of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux wasn't enough to get owners and players to reach an agreement.

Bettman and Goodenow will take part in this week's meeting, a source close to the negotiations told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, after both leaders sat out the last session. They left the bulk of those talks to Daly and union senior director Ted Saskin, who are also expected to be in attendance.

Last week, the NHL board of governors met in New York on the same day more than 150 players got an update from union leadership in Toronto.

Bettman said the board discussed many ways to get next season started on time in October, and didn't rule out the use of replacement players. He said that wasn't a choice he wanted to make, but added the league is committed to having a full season that isn't delayed.

"We haven't decided exactly what options we would or would not pursue in the event we don't have a deal," Bettman said last week. "The option we're pursuing most fervently ... is to make a deal with the union.

"I believe it's in everybody's interest to make a deal as soon as possible."

The board even entertained a $3.5 billion offer last week from an investment firm and a sports advisory company to buy all 30 teams and take control of the league. That doesn't seem to be a realistic possibility after several clubs already said they aren't interested in selling.

Each team would have to agree to such a plan.

When players emerged from their meeting with union leadership on March 1, they were more inclined to let time pass before re-engaging in talks. Players have already lost a full season's salary and aren't due to be paid again until October.

"It's important for both sides to take a little time to reassess," said players association president Trevor Linden, a Vancouver Canucks center. "The process at this point hasn't worked, and we'll step back and have a look back at how we can move this thing forward.

"To get right back at it and start firing proposals, I'm not sure that's the right way to do it."

It was not known if the league will make a new offer this week.

Owners have more incentive to get an agreement in place as soon as possible so the draft can be held in June and the league can begin its relaunch campaign. Without an agreement, there can't be a draft and there will be great difficulty selling season tickets and getting advertisers in place.

On Feb. 15, the night before the season was canceled, the NHL made its final offer of a team salary cap of $42.5 million.

The union agreed to drop its opposition to a salary cap once the league removed its demand that any deal include a link between revenues and player costs. But its last cap offer was at $49 million, and allowed for teams to go as high as $53 million twice during the six-year agreement.

It appeared there was momentum toward reaching a deal and the season had a chance to be saved because the sides were only $6.5 million apart on their cap numbers. But that didn't happen. There weren't even any discussions of that subject during the last negotiating session.

Now all previous offers are off the table, and Bettman has said that linkage is back in play. He warned the union that any future deals will be worse than ones already rejected.

Bettman has said that teams lost more than $1.8 billion over 10 years, the last time a collective bargaining agreement was reached. NHL clubs claim to have lost $273 million in 2002-03 and $224 million last season.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press