HOCKEY HELD HOSTAGE -- DAY 81: IT'S LATE IN THE 3RD PERIOD
Sources in the NHL and the NHLPA "expect a last flurry of
negotiations this week in an effort to avoid cancelling the
entire season. But as of yesterday, no date had been set for
resuming talks." The union holds a meeting of its 26 player reps
tonight in Toronto and will stage an open meeting of its
membership tomorrow. Meanwhile, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman
held a conference call with five of the GMs on the negotiating
committee -- the Bruins' Harry Sinden, the Oilers' Glen Sather,
the Devils' Lou Lamoriello, the Flyers' Bob Clarke and Maple
Leafs' Cliff Fletcher. The call was an update on "concessions
the union made on salary arbitration in recent small-group
sessions in an effort to convince the league to remove its
proposed payroll tax plan from the table. Sources said Bettman
is canvassing governors from the 26 teams on that possibility"
(Jim Smith, N.Y. NEWSDAY, 12/20). Sinden on the reported
concessions: "They didn't do enough to make us do anything at
the moment" (Nancy Marrapese, BOSTON GLOBE, 12/20).
TAX TALK: Union represenatives in the lower-level
negotiating sessions have reportedly told Fletcher and NHL
General Counsel Jeff Pash that the union "would not agree to any
deal that included a tax, no matter how benign" (Larry Brooks,
N.Y. POST, 12/20). But in Tampa, Roy Cummings reports of some
talk among union leaders of accepting a tax with a lower rate "in
exchange for maintaining status quo on arbitration." One source:
"The feeling is, the changes in arbitration would be worse for
the players as individuals. It would take away some of the
rights they have won previously. And if the league just wants a
tax just to say it has a tax, then they'd have it" (TAMPA
TRIBUNE, 12/20). In New York, Joe Lapointe writes, "Bettman has
used [the tax] as a bogey man to get what he wants through other
means. Best guess here is that they will eventually accept, at
most, a token tax, without sharp teeth, so that Bettman can save
face and set precedent" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/20).
ARBITRATION: The league is said to be pushing for a system
that prohibits players from filing for arbitration until after
six full seasons. The players are said to back five years or an
age restriction of 25 for players who enter the NHL after age 20
(Roy Cummings, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 12/20).
SOLIDARITY: The union's membership meeting comes on the
heels of statements by Stephane Richer, who called for a vote on
the owners' proposal, and Brian Leetch, who said the union would
accept a low tax. In addition, NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow faced
complaints from several Sabres and spoke with some veterans who
told him they want to "determine their own fate in a vote" (Dave
Fuller, TORONTO SUN, 12/20). But CP's Alan Adams writes, "The
players are solidly behind the NHLPA's negotiating committee and,
although there are cracks in the ranks, they are not as divisive
as the NHL would hope" (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 12/20).
WHAT'S NEXT? Fletcher: "From the confident and positive
standpoint, it would be nice to say that we'll have hockey in a
couple of weeks, but on the negative standpoint there are people
out there who want to terminate the season" ("Sports Tonight,"
CNN, 12/19). Surprisingly, Sinden "said he didn't think there
would be any more full-scale sessions attended by the bargaining
teams from both sides" (Joe Gordon, BOSTON HERALD, 12/20).
Reports on Bettman's deadline for cutting off talks and canceling
the season range from three days after Christmas to New Year's