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The talks between the players and owners broke off, and now the "ugly stage" is set for the owners to declare a negotiating impasse (Alan Truex, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 12/15). IMPLEMENTATION: Three-fourths of the ownership must vote for implementation for passage at today's meeting in Chicago. It will take eight votes to block implementation of the salary cap (I.J. Rosenberg, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 12/15). All reports acknowledge that Orioles owner Peter Angelos will vote against implementation, while most note that at least one (but maybe both) Canadian team will also vote against (Mult., 12/15). In Chicago, Jerome Holtzman adds the Dodgers and Mets (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 12/15). And in L.A., Ross Newhan adds the Reds (L.A. TIMES, 12/15). Red Sox CEO John Harrington will recommend implementation at today's meeting. Special Mediator William Usery has not ruled out going to Chicago "and asking the owners to hold off" (Alan Truex, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 12/15). In New York, Murray Chass notes the developments of the previous 24 hours could make the owners "take a harder look at the possible implications" of implementation (N.Y. TIMES, 12/15). WILL IT BE THE CAP? In Atlanta, I.J. Rosenberg writes, "There is a question of what the clubs will implement." There are two sets of proposals on the table, the original salary cap and an escalating tax which the owners presented on November 17 (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 12/15). MORE INTERVENTION: Assuming the owners implement their salary cap, the players are expected to appeal to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) "with the charge that the owners have not bargained in good faith, that implementation of the owners' proposal was the objective when negotiations began almost two years ago." The NLRB already "came in with a verdict for the players" yesterday when it ruled in favor of the union on its complaint that the owners were in violation of their contract with the union for failing to make a $7.8M payment to the players' pension fund (Jerome Holtzman, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 12/15). MLBPA attorney Doyle Pryor: "If we have to file another charge, it will already have been determined that they have not bargained in good faith" (L.A. TIMES, 12/15). In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck notes with NLRB's pension decision, "the owners may have suffered a significant setback. ... The announcement couldn't have come at a worse time for the ownership bargaining committee" (Baltimore SUN, 12/15). WHAT NEXT? Some owners believe the players will "turn on Fehr as they realize how much money he has cost them by leading this freedom crusade" (Alan Truex, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 12/15). ESPN' Peter Gammons and Bob Sirkin said "it is very unlikely" that Usery will be fulfill his hope to have both sides back this weekend ("SportsCenter," 12/14)
Attorneys from the NHL and NHLPA met at an undisclosed site in New York, but without the principal players on each side, including NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow. The negotiations "were between small groups with no power to strike a deal. But the lawyers had instructions to see if a breakthrough was possible in this situation that has locked out players and curtailed the regular season" (Joe Lapointe, N.Y. TIMES, 12/15). One source close to the talks: "What happens at these meetings may determine whether negotiations resume." It is expected that if both sides can identify some areas of compromise, bargaining will resume by the weekend (Alan Adams, CANADIAN PRESS/Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 12/15). Bruins Player Rep Dave Reid: "I wouldn't care if Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were there as long as they settled it" (BOSTON HERALD, 12/15). IS THERE ANY HOPE? Agent Rich Winter: "Baseball left it and left it and left it, and I'm sure hockey will leave it, leave it and leave it to the last minute, and Bettman will try and squeeze out what he can -- he'll take it to the 11th hour" (Dave Fay, WASHINGTON TIMES, 12/15). In Toronto, Damien Cox reports some TV officials "have apparently been notified to have their cameras and microphones at the ready for Boxing Day [December 26], although for that to happen a deal would have to come together by the weekend" (TORONTO STAR, 12/15). But the OTTAWA SUN is reporting that the NHL "is prepared to offer teams in need a line of credit to cover losses during the lockout. Sources said that decision indicates the owners are preparing for the cancellation of the season" (Dave Fuller, TORONTO SUN, 12/15). TEAM GRETZKY: Wayne Gretzky, as his traveling all-star team closed out its European tour with a win in Germany: "I was taken back by the response [during the tour]. It's a clear sign that the NHL is accepted here and could be tremendously successful over here. How they want to do that, whether it's a division or what, is up to them. This has opened a few doors for everyone." As well as helping the game abroad, Tony Gallagher writes that Gretzky also boosted his own marketability. "He's had millions of dollars worth of offers so far, but he's turned down almost all, waiting until he returns to carefully select with whom he wishes to involve himself" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/15).