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"Baseball's owners have set a doomsday deadline for the sport to settle its labor problems" by scheduling a meeting in Chicago on December 5. The owners will likely use the date to declare an impasse in negotiations and vote to impose their salary-cap plan on the players. "The negotiating committee will present the options and then the owners will vote," according to MLB spokesperson Rich Levin (Colin Miner, N.Y. POST, 11/22). The meetings place an "added sense of urgency" on the talks next Monday, when players will respond to the owners' luxury-tax proposal. Red Sox CEO John Harrington indicated that the arbitration deadline on December 7 might "force the owners into a decision on implementation" (Peter Schmuck, Baltimore SUN, 11/22). MLBPA General Council Gene Orza was "not surprised" (N.Y. POST, 11/22). Keith Olbermann said one union source told ESPN the owners' luxury tax plan "is the same old idea with a 'new cover on it'" (ESPN, 11/21).
"This could be D-Day in the NHL as make-or-break talks between the league and its players' union move toward a climax in Boston," writes Dave Fuller in this morning's TORONTO SUN. While the AP was reporting that a breakthrough was "imminent," sources warn that the talks "could just as easily fall apart today when the owners' contentious luxury plan goes back on the table" (TORONTO SUN, 11/22). Relating reports from Al Morganti, ESPN's Keith Olbermann reported that the owners had cut their maximum rate in their payroll tax from 122% to 60%, and that much of the night was spent discussing an NFL-like franchise player system. Issues such as a rookie salary cap, arbitration, two-way contracts and a gate tax "have already been pretty much settled on" ("SportsCenter," 11/21). The owners' plan also includes raising the eligibility age for the entry draft to 20, with provisions for 18- and 19-year-olds. In addition, the draft would be shortened to six or eight rounds (Helene Elliott, L.A. TIMES, 11/22). Bruins President & GM Harry Sinden: "It's reached the point where we'll know pretty well after these two days" ("Sports Tonight," CNN, 11/21). JUST A MINUTE: Bob McKenzie writes, "The evidence suggests, at best, [the rumors] are rather premature and, at worst, just plain wrong. ... We are only on the verge of playing hockey if the players returned from their recess last night and said they're prepared to": Accept the rookie salary cap; new terms & conditions of free agency, including the franchise-player clause; agree that a luxury tax (rate to be negotiated) will be part of any new CBA. "Quite frankly, that doesn't seem plausible" (TORONTO STAR, 11/22). ON THE SHELF: While several reports note the owners' luxury tax will be reintroduced or offered up in exchange for major changes in the arbitration, this morning's N.Y. POST indicates that owners may be willing to open the season without an agreement on their tax plan if the two sides settle the "systems issues" (arbitration, rookie cap etc.) and the NHLPA is open to negotiating a tax by a summer '95 deadline. In addition, the NHL "now is exploring more palatable alternatives" to its tax, including: a tax on free agent signings only; a capped tax; a bell curve instead of a progressive tax; or a tax triggered by "certain, defined economic conditions." Larry Brooks reports that the "cornerstone" of a restructured system would be greater movement for free-agents, with the "fascinating" development of the league advocating more freedom (N.Y. POST, 11/22). QUOTES: Islanders GM Don Maloney: "Both sides are now starting to find solutions rather than focusing on problems." Penguins Player Rep Larry Murphy: "There is compromise in the air" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/22). Agent Mike Barnett: "The consensus is that when things start to move, they will move very quickly" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/22).