NHL, NHLPA resume talks Tuesday
NEW YORK (AP) - With two fruitless negotiating sessions behind them and only one month left before an NHL labour disruption, the league and the players' association will return to the bargaining table Tuesday.
Time is running short for a new agreement to be hammered out between NHL owners and the NHLPA that would avert a labour disruption that threatens the season. The sides got together in New York in late July and met again two weeks later in Toronto, but little optimism emerged from those talks.
At least the sides agreed to meet for the third time in six weeks. Not bad after just two meetings between October and July.
``I hope we can make substantive progress,'' Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal officer, said Monday. ``The time for engaging in a philosophical dialogue is over.''
If there isn't a new deal by Sept. 15, a labour disruption could cut the season in half, or cancel it completely for the first time in NHL history.
``We approach each meeting prepared to discuss a fair agreement for both sides,'' NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin said. ``The main stumbling block remains the league's demand for a salary cap and refusal to consider any alternatives. A willingness to negotiate on the part of the league will get us far closer to progress than any schedule of frequent meetings.''
The current deal ended the lockout nine years ago, and the agreement has been extended twice. Tuesday's session will take place at a hotel in New Jersey near Newark Airport.
``We expect to come out of the meeting with a comprehensive schedule of frequent negotiating sessions and are committed to making every effort over the next 30 days to reach an agreement,'' Daly said.
The July 21 bargaining meeting at the NHL's Manhattan office lasted four hours and featured an exchange of six possible concepts by the league to the union for a new economic system. At the time, Saskin requested more information that was provided at the Aug. 4 meeting.
When the sides convened again at union headquarters in Toronto, they talked for four hours but any optimism that might have been felt before was dulled.
The NHLPA insisted that each proposal put forth by the NHL carried a salary-cap system that it refuses to accept.
Daly disputed that claim and said the union is ``married to the status quo or tweaks to the status quo. To us, the status quo is disastrous.''
He added that only one of the proposed concepts involved a hard salary cap. The other five, he said, related to system concepts that would ``achieve cost certainty, make the league economically healthy, and make all teams competitive.
At the opening session in October, the NHLPA offered a proposal containing a luxury tax, a five per cent rollback in player salaries, changes in entry-level salaries, and revenue sharing. Saskin said the players association might scale back that proposal because he says players salaries have decreased since then.
Asked after the previous negotiating session if he could be persuaded to adopt a luxury tax, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he couldn't. He has vowed to establish cost certainty for clubs and is determined to make sure the percentage of revenues paid out in player salaries is sliced.
An economic study commissioned by the NHL found that players get 75 per cent of league revenues - far more than the percentage for the other major team sports. The players' association has challenged many of the league's financial findings.
If it comes down to a labour disruption, this one could turn out worse than the one that lasted 103 days and cut the 1994-95 season nearly in half. Owners have been preparing for that possibility for the last several years, and have built up a $300 million war chest.