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HOCKEY HELD HOSTAGE -- DAY 62: DECEMBER HAS ARRIVED
Published December 1, 1994
"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).