SBD/1/Leagues Governing Bodies

HOCKEY HELD HOSTAGE -- DAY 62: DECEMBER HAS ARRIVED

     "Throughout the NHL labor dispute, you have repeatedly been
told the next meeting is pivotal to the process.  Well, this is
no false alarm," writes Bob McKenzie in this morning's TORONTO
STAR.  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman,  NHLPA Exec Dir Bob
Goodenow and reps from both sides meet today in Chicago.  One NHL
Governor:  "If this set of meetings becomes derailed, we maybe
only have two or three days to get things back on track" (TORONTO
STAR, 12/1).
     WHAT WILL THE PLAYERS PRESENT?  The "key" to the talks will
be the NHLPA's counterproposal, developed through talks between
the union's negotiating committee, players and agents.  Many are
looking for the players to "bend" further on the three key issues
-- free agency, arbitration and a rookie cap (CANADIAN
PRESS/VANCOUVER SUN, 12/1).  "Someone with knowledge of their
position said the union's offer to management [today] will be
comprehensive, geared toward ending the lockout" (Joe Lapointe,
N.Y. TIMES, 12/1).  One management source, on the NHLPA:  "It's
getting to the point where they are going to have to make a
decision" (Dave Fay, WASHINGTON TIMES, 12/1).  Another management
source:  "We consider these meetings to be critical.  (The NHLPA
has) blown off the last week.  If their strategy is to delay and
push us up against a deadline, that will be clear immediately"
(Larry Brooks, N.Y. POST, 12/1).
     OR IS IT UP TO THE OWNERS?  One "prominent" agent said the
owners "should recognize the players' attempts to strike a deal"
(Lance Hornby, TORONTO SUN, 12/1).  "If the union's offering is
viewed extremely negatively by management, it could erase
whatever gains were made [in recent weeks]."  One "neutral"
source:  "If owners walk away from this there will be no season"
(Len Hochberg, WASHINGTON POST, 12/1).
     WHAT TO LOOK FOR:  Concessions by the players on free
agency, arbitration or the rookie cap could cause the owners to
"ease" their luxury tax, or even possibly remove it from
consideration (Lance Hornby, TORONTO SUN, 12/1).  On the rookie
cap, the differences are strictly "numerical" -- the union seeks
a $1.5M limit, with the league closer to $700,000.  On
arbitration, the union is concerned about the league's proposed
non-binding system -- whereby a team is not bound to an
arbitrator's decision.  Even with an NHL concession that such
"walkaway" players would be granted unrestricted free agency, the
union has fears about the potential market for such players.  The
union may propose limits on the number of "walkaway" arbitrations
a team may use.  On free agency, the union opposes the league's
"franchise player" system, in which a team retains the right to
match any offer for its highest-paid players.  The union may
propose that franchise players be guaranteed a certain salary
level (Bob McKenzie, TORONTO STAR, 12/1).
     SOMEWHERE, PUCKS WILL BE DROPPING:  Team Gretzky kicks off
its exhibition tour tonight against the IHL Vipers at The Palace
at Auburn Hills.  Gretzky denies tonight's game and the
subsequent European tour are designed to embarrass the league:
"We're playing this for charity, for NHL oldtimers, not to stir
up controversy. ... We want this tour not to go" (Gare Joyce,
Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 12/1).
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