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HOCKEY HELD HOSTAGE -- DAY 96: THIRD DAY'S A CHARM?
Published January 4, 1995
For the first time since the NHL imposed its lockout on October 1, negotiators for the league's owners and players met for three consecutive days. "The pessimistic mood that was created by four hours of reportedly unproductive talks on Sunday has, at least in some minds, been overtaken by more than 18 hours of negotiations over the past two days," writes Damien Cox in this morning's TORONTO STAR. No new talks have been scheduled, but there is a possibility that lower-level negotiations will continue (TORONTO STAR, 1/4). The WASHINGTON POST quotes NHL VP of Public Relations Arthur Pincus saying that discussions will continue today. NHLPA spokesperson Steve McAllister added there has been nothing set up between NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, but "at some point, to get a deal, those two guys would have to meet" (Len Hochberg, WASHINGTON POST, 1/4). One "angry" GM: "I don't think Goodenow and Bettman will meet again until it's done and it's time to shake hands" (Mark Everson, N.Y. POST, 1/4). OWNERS MEETING? The L.A. TIMES is reporting that the NHL Board of Governors will hold a conference call today, "but it was not known whether the purpose was to poll the governors about a potential deal or merely to update them" (Helene Elliott, L.A. TIMES, 1/4). MORE FROM THE RUMOR MILL: With both sides maintaining a secrecy agreement, speculation on what issues are under discussion varies. Maple Leafs President Cliff Fletcher, who was involved in the earlier round of lower-level talks: "There are only six guys who know what is going on -- the four guys in the room along with Bob Goodenow and Gary Bettman. The rest is all speculation and it's all over the map" (CP/VANCOUVER SUN, 1/4). The BOSTON GLOBE reports the league has dropped its demand for a tax should the players "capitulate" on three other significant issues: a rookie cap no higher than $800,000, elimination of all "meaningful" salary arbitration, and unrestricted free agency only at age 32 or 33. According to a source, it is now up to Goodenow to respond (Dupont & Marrapese, BOSTON GLOBE, 1/4). Also in Boston, Bruins President Harry Sinden and team player rep Dave Reid denied a Tuesday report by sports-radio station WEEI that the lockout "appeared over" (Joe Gordon, BOSTON HERALD, 1/4). The Toronto GLOBE & MAIL reports discussions focus on Group II free agents (age 24 or five years exp.) The owners want to retain the right-to-match and allow only two Group II players per team to apply for arbitration per year. That arbitration would be non-binding. In exchange, the players would be eligible for unrestricted free agency at age 30 (David Shoalts, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 1/4). WHAT TO DO? In New York, Larry Brooks writes that it is Bettman's "responsibility" as commissioner to explain to the Board of Governors that a deal without a tax is still a victory for the owners. One GM, noting that the players have made concessions "pretty much straight down the line": "The problem is now the hockey people have to be given the opportunity to explain that to the owners and I'm not so sure that's going to be done." But while management appears fixated on the tax, one "prominent" agent said: "It isn't the league office; it's the owners" (N.Y. POST, 1/4). One league source told the HARTFORD COURANT: "If there is no payroll tax, then no free agency and concessions on salary arbitration are the only thing left. What leverage do the players have then? That's what I think [NHL Senior VP & Dir of Hockey Ops Brian] Burke and [NHL General Counsel Jeff] Pash were trying to explain to them the other day. The players would be better off with some sort of tax plan" (Jeff Jacobs, HARTFORD COURANT, 1/4).