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Sources on both sides of the baseball labor dispute indicated that the next bargaining session -- originally scheduled for today in New York -- will take place in Washington tomorrow. But it is not known whether all future negotiations will be held in DC. In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck notes the change in venue "would mesh" with former Labor Secretary William Usery's style of mediation. Usery "has a reputation for keeping the bargaining unit at the table for long hours, and may believe that moving both sides out of New York will raise the discomfort level to a point where they will be more receptive to a compromise" (Baltimore SUN, 10/18). Meanwhile, MLB players continued to file for free agency. The owners have not imposed their 45-day freeze on players filing for free agency and signing contracts, "but they likely will impose a freeze on signings soon." Chuck O'Connor, General Counsel of MLB's Player Relations Committee, said the owners will discuss the measure within the next few days. O'Connor noted that there would not be a freeze on filings, just on signings. The MLBPA has said a freeze on signings would be a form of collusion (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 10/18). THE OWNERS' TEAM: The owners' negotiating team will most likely include Red Sox owner John Harrington, Rockies owner Jerry McMorris and Brewers VP & General Counsel Wendy Selig-Prieb (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 10/18).
The NHL "is likely to notify clubs either today or tomorrow of a ticket refund policy that will be the precursor of cancelling the games" (Damien Cox, TORONTO STAR, 10/18). Refunds "will be an agonizing and costly experience" as teams will "have to repay cash they don't actually have on hand" (Jim Proudfoot, TORONTO STAR, 10/18). MEDIATION? Both NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow "have been urged by their constituents to bring in a mediator to get the issues on the table" (Al Strachan, TORONTO SUN, 10/18). NHL Senior VP & Dir of Hockey Operations Brian Burke: "A mediator is designed to facilitate communication between the sides. We're communicating just fine. We just can't agree on a damn thing" (Jack Keating, Vancouver PROVINCE, 10/18). There were no talks scheduled for today or tomorrow. NHL VP of Communications Arthur Pincus: "The players' side has told us there's nothing to discuss. I don't know when we'll be getting back together" (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 10/18). CNN's Fred Hickman quoted Goodenow, "Considering they rejected our proposal and their current position, there is not much to talk about" ("Sports Tonight," CNN, 10/17). WILL THE OWNERS CRACK FIRST? "One person with management connections predicted the players will win if they can maintain the resolve shown thus far," according to a report in this morning's Toronto GLOBE & MAIL. The NHL source, "whose ties to management prevent him from speaking publicly": "The owners want to break the union. But the difference between the money the players are losing and what the owners are losing is astronomical." The source cites a group of owners that wants to play under the players' pledge not to strike if the season begins. That group is still in the minority (David Shoalts, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 10/18). The TORONTO SUN also raises the question of the owners' solidarity. One source "close to the situation," noting last week's Board of Governors meeting: "You don't need 4 1/2 hours if there's unanimity. There are a number of teams that want to go back" (Al Strachan, TORONTO SUN, 10/18). But the NHL's Burke said the owners are unified and that they are "prepared to go through the whole season without hockey" (Jack Keating, Vancouver PROVINCE, 10/18). THE "L"-WORD: The L.A. TIMES reported yesterday that the NHL is ready to concede that the work stoppage is a "lockout," rather than a mere postponement. That could mean players in 20 states will be eligible for unemployment insurance (Elliott & Norwood, L.A. TIMES, 10/17). BRIAN BURKE'S TOUR OF NORTH AMERICA: Burke was in Vancouver "preaching the gospel of a new hockey order," but he denied his tour of several NHL cities was a PR exercise: "I'm not here to influence what you write, I'm just trying to set the record straight" (Elliott Pap, VANCOUVER SUN, 10/18). Goodenow: "He's obviously putting out the party line, saying the players are uninformed. ... They're trying to put a fresh face on the league because they've gotten the [expletive] kicked out of them" (Lisa Dillman, L.A. TIMES, 10/18). Mike Beamish on Burke's oft- repeated suggestion that the two sides lock themselves in a room, order Chinese food, and don't emerge until there's a settlement: "It ... could end up in a food fight" (VANCOUVER SUN, 10/18). FROM THE BENCH: The union is planning another "mass meeting" of players in Toronto, tentatively on November 1 (Dave Fay, WASHINGTON TIMES, 10/18). NHLPA VP Marty McSorley did not sign with the IHL Las Vegas Thunder as expected, saying that if he plays in the IHL it will be for free. "It wouldn't have looked very good for an officer of the union to accept the money with so many other NHLers out of work" (Dave Fuller, TORONTO SUN, 10/18). The IIHF reversed itself on whether NHL players would be allowed to play in Europe. IIHF President Rene Fasel said he changed his position after receiving clarification from Bettman that the NHL would not prohibit players from signing in Europe. Fasel: "I know I look bad, but if the NHL says it's OK, what am I to do?" (Alan Adams, CP/OTTAWA CITIZEN, 10/18). UNDER THE SCOPE: Canadian Heritage Minister Michael Dupuy confirmed there have been "preliminary discussions" on an investigation into hockey, particularly the "enormous investment Canadians have in a game that is becoming increasingly American." Noting the taxpayer investment in funding new arenas and Canada's corporate tax write-offs for sports, Roy MacGregor writes that the NHL "might well turn out to be an issue perfectly suited to the political climate. It has American threat, growing concern at the national, provincial and municipal levels, and deep taxpayer involvement." MacGregor raises the prospect that the probe could take the form of a Royal Commission with the power to subpoena witnesses and documents (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 10/18).
A mix-up in preparing the ice at The Summit in Houston left the surface "thin, soft and unplayable," causing Sunday night's Houston Aeros-Atlanta Knights IHL game to be postponed (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 10/17). The game was supposed to be played last night, but was cancelled indefinitely due to the poor ice conditions. The next games scheduled at the Summit are this weekend and should go on as planned (Aeros)....The IHL's Peoria Rivermen announced the relocation of their October 30 match-up with the Cincinnati Cyclones from Peoria Civic Center to the Kiel Center in St. Louis. The Rivermen are affiliated with the Blues. The game will be the first pro hockey game played in the new facility (Rivermen). Blues President Jack Quinn was happy the Rivermen found a "working date in St. Louis" (ST. LOUIS POST- DISPATCH, 10/18)....The CANADIAN PRESS profiles the AHL and its "new-found exposure." Both ESPN2 and Canada's The Sports Network are broadcasting AHL games to fill the void left by the NHL. AHL President Dave Andrews says he does not see the relationships with ESPN2 and TSN as an "interim arrangement": "We've now established working relationships that will be long-term. They'll be more interested in looking at us for programming in the future now that they've seen what we can deliver" (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 10/18).