Sides might have discovered common ground

Updated: April 8, 2005, 6:36 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | Special to ESPN.com

ROMULUS, Mich. -- After meeting privately for more than an hour Thursday evening, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his players' association counterpart Bob Goodenow are expected to speak sometime next week and set a new date for the next round of negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The two leaders were part of a larger group that gathered for dinner following a six-hour discussion between NHL general mangers, union leaders and players on potential rules changes. Later, the men peeled off for an informal conversation.

Bettman was not available for comment Friday, but NHL executive vice president and chief legal officer Bill Daly said he felt a sense of optimism after Monday's bargaining session in Toronto and the collaboration in Thursday's group meeting.

Though the NHLPA rejected the league's latest two proposals, Daly said momentum toward a solution was created during the last hour to hour and a half of Monday's meeting.

"There was a good, certainly not an agreement, but a good discussion of the issues, and it seemed like we were more on the same page in terms of an overall framework than we've been throughout most of this process," Daly said.

"Obviously there's a long way to go and a lot of issues to deal with," he added.

One of the league's offers included a $37.5-million team salary cap that did not link salaries to revenues; the other was a "linkage" system that ensured players salaries would not exceed 54 perecent of league-wide revenues.

Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs told the Boston Globe that, after a three-hour caucus, the players offered a salary-cap system that was based on league-wide revenues.

"I said to Gary, "Well, that's linkage,' " said Jacobs, relating the conversation he had with Bettman to the paper. "But the truth is it was not -- because in a true linkage system, the players' side would have to establish an escrow system, and that would mean giving money back if gross revenues dropped. They're not interested in that."

Daly wouldn't elaborate on Friday, but he was cautiously optimistic that the sides might have found common ground.

"I left [Monday] feeling perhaps we had more traction on a common concept than we had had in the past, but again that could go away in the first five minutes of the next meeting. It's not something I'm going to be overly jubilant about. I'll wait to see if time will tell if it meant anything," Daly added.

The NHLPA agreed.

"While we had good discussions on Monday on some of the issues, it is also clear that we still have a long way to go before we could say any real progress is being made," senior director Ted Saskin said in a statement.

The NHL's executive committee is scheduled to meet next week and the board of governors is set to meet on April 20.

Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

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