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Volume 24 No. 156
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     The "secret subcommittees" in the NHL labor dispute met
yesterday for the second day in a row.  One union exec:  "Real
cloak-and-dagger stuff."  The representatives met at a secret
location, and while the delegations were in contact with NHL
Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow, the
two principals were not involved.  The NHL delegation was
believed to include NHL Senior VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash and
Maple Leafs President Cliff Fletcher, while the NHLPA sent
attorneys John McCambridge and Bob Riley.  "Some of the best-
informed executives and agents were not briefed about the talks,
suggesting an air of sensitivity and gravity to the issues being
discussed" (Joe Lapointe, N.Y. TIMES, 12/16).  There were no
official plans to resume full negotiations, although the CANADIAN
PRESS is reporting that talks are planned for the weekend.
Fletcher:  "There will be more meetings" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE,
     SMALL GROUPS, BIG TALKS:  In Toronto, Bob McKenzie writes,
"If the two sides weren't making some progress on the sticky
systemic issues -- everything from rookie salary caps to salary
arbitration to free agency to the mother of them all, the payroll
tax -- they wouldn't be getting back together. ... The
lieutenants on both sides are skilled professionals and creative
problem solvers.  The urgency of the situation, along with the
absence of two hard-line leaders, may be just what's needed to
breathe some life into the talks" (TORONTO STAR, 12/16).  One
source told the CANADIAN PRESS:  "If this thing is going to get
done and the season is going to be saved, these small groups will
have played a big part of the process" (VANCOUVER SUN, 12/16).
     DEAL IN THE WORKS?  Several owners told THE SPORTING NEWS
"that reintroducing the tax was a 'face-saving tactic to show
small-market teams the league had not sold them out.  But the
charade was part of a natural process.'  That's why the tax will
disappear this week and the Edmontons and Winnipegs of the NHL
will have to make it on their own.  Seventy-five percent of the
owners will not vote to cancel the season" (THE SPORTING
NEWS/L.A. TIMES, 12/16).
SUN reports that if the season is canceled, the next stop for
Wayne Gretzky and his all-stars would be Japan.  "The precise
format has yet to be determined, but the financial backing has
already been arranged -- and it is substantial," reports Al
Strachan.  Since the level of competition would not be the same
as in Europe, the NHLPA would have to send two teams (TORONTO
SUN, 12/16).
     THE "I" WATCHES AND WAITS:  IHL Commissioner Bob Ufer said
he is "unsure" whether he will extend his ban of IHL teams
signing locked-out NHL players before it expires today.  Ufer
will make his decision after talking with Professional Hockey
Players Association Exec Dir Larry Landon.  Ufer:  "It's a very
sensitive issue because of the potential loss of jobs" (Kevin
Allen, USA TODAY, 12/16).