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HOCKEY Progress not seen in latest NHL talks



Published: Fri, January 21, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The gap between players and owners remains wide four months into the lockout.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

After two days of negotiations, the NHL and the players' association appeared no closer to a deal that could save the hockey season.

Representatives from the NHL and the players' association met for 41/2 hours Thursday in Toronto, the second consecutive day the sides held discussions in an attempt to end the four-month lockout.

The sides also held a five-hour meeting in Chicago on Wednesday, but they remained divided on the idea of cost certainty, a concept the players' association says is an unacceptable salary cap.

"We've had two good days of communication," Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer said. "But we still have very strong philosophical differences.

"I can't say we're any closer."

Daly said the two-day session was "the best dynamic to date in this process," but the only thing the sides appeared to agree on was that they are still far apart.

"We clearly have some strong differences of opinion," said Ted Saskin, the players association's senior director.

Clock about to expire

Talks are expected to resume at some point, but no meeting has been scheduled.

"We just continue to work very hard at trying to satisfy both parties," Daly said.

More than half of the regular season -- 671 of 1,230 games through Thursday -- has been wiped out so far, plus the All-Star game.

This latest setback again pushes to the forefront the possibility that there will be no hockey played this season.

"We all know time is not an ally," Saskin said. "Our lines of communication are open."

If the season is wiped out, the Stanley Cup wouldn't be awarded for the first time since 1919, when a flu epidemic canceled the final series between Seattle and Montreal. The NHL would then become the first major North American sports league to lose an entire season because of a labor dispute.

False hope

There was hope that progress could be made this time without the presence of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Bob Goodenow, who were kept out of the meeting in an attempt to have discussions without acrimony that has built up between the two leaders.

This two-day meeting marked just the third time the league and players association held face-to-face talks since the lockout was imposed Sept. 15.

Each side had a three-man team in place Wednesday, and the only change Thursday was the absence of Calgary Flames part-owner Harley Hotchkiss.

Union president Trevor Linden initiated the talks with Hotchkiss on Wednesday, and enough progress was made to quickly schedule a second meeting. But that good feeling appeared to be somewhat lost in Toronto, the same place talks broke off last month.

Daly joined Hotchkiss and outside counsel Bob Batterman in representing the NHL on Wednesday; Linden, Saskin and outside counsel John McCambridge represented the players.

Hotchkiss didn't go to Toronto because he was attending the funeral in Calgary of J.R. (Bud) McCaig, another member of the Flames' ownership group who died last week. Saskin took part in Thursday's meeting, despite the death of his mother a day earlier.




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