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NHL New negotiations fail to reach agreement



Published: Sat, February 19, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Despite a resumption of talks, season remains off and no additional meetings have been set.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Even with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux at the bargaining table, the NHL and the players' association weren't able to come to an agreement Saturday that would un-cancel the hockey season.

NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly told The Associated Press that no progress was made in the 61/2-hour meeting. No new talks have been scheduled.

Just three days after the season was called off because of the protracted lockout, the NHL and the union restarted talks at 9 a.m. Saturday at an undisclosed location in New York.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and players' association executive director Bob Goodenow were not at the meeting, two sources close to the negotiations told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

However, Gretzky, the managing partner of the Phoenix Coyotes, and Lemieux, the player-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, joined the talks aimed at getting a deal done that could save the season, the sources said.

Gretzky and Lemieux were joined on the owners' side by Daly and outside counsel Bob Batterman, while the union was represented by NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin, director of business relations Mike Gartner, players' association president Trevor Linden, vice president Vincent Damphousse, and outside counsel John McCambridge.

On Wednesday, Bettman canceled the season, saying it was too late to play any semblance of a schedule. That made the NHL the first major North American sports league to lose a full season to a labor dispute.

Negotiations restarted

In a statement released Friday night, the players' association said the NHL made the offer late Thursday night to get together.

There hadn't been any official contact between the NHL and the players' association since Tuesday night -- when the sides traded what they said were final offers.

All proposals were rejected, and Bettman canceled the season at a news conference Wednesday.

Bettman said in a letter to Goodenow on Tuesday that the league's salary-cap proposal of $42.5 million was as far as he could go and that there was no time or flexibility for negotiation.

Goodenow sent a letter back, proposing a soft cap at $49 million that could be exceeded by as much as 10 percent by teams twice during the course of the six-year deal.

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 talking ceased after each side sent two letters to the other on Tuesday night.

There were big breakthroughs Monday in Niagara Falls, N.Y., when the NHL agreed to drop its demand that player costs be linked to league revenues, and the union, in turn, came off its steadfast opposition to a salary cap.

Bettman said the NHL couldn't afford the union's final proposal and said if all 30 teams spent $49 million on player costs, then more money would be paid out to players than last season.

The commissioner said that teams lost more than $1.8 billion over 10 years, the last time a collective bargaining agreement was reached. The previous lockout cut the 1994-95 season down to 48 games per team.

NHL clubs claim to have lost $273 million in 2002-03 and $224 million last season.

Bettman said a deal would have to be in the drafting stages by the end of last weekend if there was going to be time to play a 28-game season and a standard 16-team postseason.




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