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HOCKEY HELD HOSTAGE -- DAY 80: THE UNION SPRINGS A LEAK
Published December 19, 1994
While lower-level negotiations continued between the NHL and its players, the union was forced to respond to the first public criticism from its membership. On Friday, Devils forward Stephane Richer was quoted in LE JOURNAL DE MONTREAL as saying, "I am convinced that if you took a secret vote among the 650 players, the season would start tomorrow morning" (LE JOURNAL DE MONTREAL, 12/16). CP's Alan Adams writes, "There's a feeling that Richer isn't alone in his comments, but he's the first player to state them publicly." But NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow responded: "The overall membership supports the bargaining committee. The support is from players at every level, from Gretzky to Messier to Hull to other players. These guys understand the issues" (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 12/17). Devils Player Rep Bruce Driver said Richer "hasn't been in contact with any of the players on our team. By no means is one guy speaking for the membership" (Joe Lapointe, N.Y. TIMES, 12/17). From the response of several players in a New Haven charity game, Jeff Jacobs reports, "What could have been a painfully divisive statement for the players turned them solid as a rock" (HARTFORD COURANT, 12/19). But the union was still "bailing furiously" (Paul Hunter, TORONTO STAR, 12/17). MORE JITTERS? In New York, Larry Brooks cites "multiple sources with ties to the NHLPA" and reports that a "significant number of players has communicated surprise over management solidarity and fear over the immediate prospect of canceling the season." One prominent agent: "Players with whom I've spoken have told me they understand it will be impossible to make a deal without a tax. They've told me they believe it's in their best interests for Bob to get the best deal possible on the systems issues and then to negotiate the tax down as far as he can" (N.Y. POST, 12/17). Stars Owner Norman Green called on both sides to hire an independent accounting firm and take secret ballot votes of their memberships (Joe Lapointe, N.Y. TIMES, 12/18). THIS WEEK'S OUTLOOK: There were no plans for a full negotiating session, but there were reports of "some progress" made during lower-level meetings. Maple Leafs President Cliff Fletcher said the schedule is up to Bettman and Goodenow (CP/OTTAWA CITIZEN, 12/19). Some saw the emergence of Fletcher as a positive sign. Writes Dave Fuller, "It's known Fletcher would gladly ditch the payroll tax in exchange for greater concessions on salary arbitration and free agency." But one league source said that concessions would have to be "considerable" for the NHL to abandon its tax (TORONTO SUN, 12/19). League sources also denied an L.A. TIMES report that the talks are focused on two solutions -- one plan with a tax, and one without. NHL sources say the league has not dropped its demand for a payroll tax at any time (Damien Cox, TORONTO STAR, 12/19). THE SEASON OF HOPE: While Dave Fuller cites one "club insider" who says, "The deal is done" -- he also reports the league is working on a Jan. 15 start (TORONTO SUN, 12/19). PLAYERS-ONLY LEAGUE: Agent Rich Winter confirmed that he has invited the operators of 38 major arenas to a meeting on January 9 in Minneapolis to discuss the formation of a World Hockey League. Winter told the EDMONTON JOURNAL: "Who's on board? On the record? Nobody. We all want to see a deal made. But I can tell you, more than 50 percent of the major agents, including agents for more than half the top players, are behind it. ... The owners are talking about replacement players. We think it's a lot easier to have replacement owners. There's only 26 of them, and they're not very good at what they do." Winter claims support from the Teamsters, former IIHF official Gord Renwick and TV people in Hollywood (Cam Cole, EDMONTON JOURNAL, 12/17).