First meeting since Feb. 19

Updated: March 11, 2005, 11:27 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The NHL and the players' association met for 1½ hours Friday in Toronto and expect to talk more next week.

The meeting that began around noon was the first between the sides since Feb. 19 -- three days after commissioner Gary Bettman canceled the 2004-05 season.

"It was just general conversation," players' association executive director Bob Goodenow said in a telephone interview. "We talked about how we might proceed on a going forward basis."

Bettman invited Goodenow back to the table for Friday's meeting after the pair sat out the last session.

"We plan to meet again next week for further dialogue," Goodenow said. "There were no proposals exchanged today."

The previous session had Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in the room, but the presence of the Hall of Famers-turned-owners wasn't enough to help broker a deal and overturn Bettman's historic announcement.

Nothing changed Friday in the meeting that was attended on the NHL side by Bettman, chief legal officer Bill Daly, general counsel David Zimmerman, and outside counsel Bob Batterman. The players' association was represented by Goodenow, senior director Ted Saskin, associate counsel Ian Pulver and outside counsel John McCambridge.

"No progress was made towards a new collective bargaining agreement," Daly said in a statement.

The NHL is the first major sports league in North America to lose an entire season to a labor dispute. The league brought the union back to the table quickly because it would like to get an agreement in place so the draft can be held on time in June, and relaunching plans for next season can be put into effect.

The players wanted to take more of a break from negotiations. They had less of an incentive to initiate talks now because they are not due to be paid again until next season.

All previous offers were off the table, including the league's decision to drop its demand for cost certainty and the union's willingness to accept a salary cap in return.

"Obviously, we need to cover some various concepts," Goodenow said. "Whatever either side thinks would be pertinent, and would help the process, should be raised."

By many accounts, these talks were back at the square one stage.

"I wouldn't even want to characterize it," Goodenow said. "I think we just talked about where we are. We didn't get into any specifics."

Bettman has said he remains committed to starting next season on time and with a collective bargaining agreement with the union. But if that doesn't occur, he will consider using replacement players to ensure there is hockey in the fall.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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