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Volume 24 No. 114
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     NHL owners and players did not meet yesterday in either full
or lower-level negotiations, and there were no indications that
the two sides would get together again until after Christmas.  On
his way to a few days off in Hawaii, Maple Leafs President & GM
Cliff Fletcher said next week is the last chance.  Fletcher:  "No
deal next week, no season.  It can't be done outside next week."
But other sources insist that talks could carry into the first
week of January and a deal still be cut to start a 50-game season
10 days later (Lance Hornby, TORONTO STAR, 12/23).  Once again,
reports from coast-to-coast, in the U.S. and Canada, range from
bleak pessimism to outright optimism.  A SAMPLING:
     BOSTON HERALD:  For the first time since the labor dispute
began, Bruins GM Harry Sinden predicted there will be no season
(Stephen Harris, BOSTON HERALD, 12/23).
     CANADIAN PRESS:  Alan Adams reports that one "influential
team president" objects to the league's position that there was
no official offer of a no-tax proposal -- insisting instead that
any such discussion was carried out on a "conceptual level."  The
team official said:  "If this is not a proposal, then why did
they call me last week to ask my opinion.  Of course it is a
proposal" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 12/23).
     CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  At the Blackhawks annual Christmas party,
Chris Chelios "chatted amiably" with team owner Bill Wirtz.
Chelios had earlier threatened Gary Bettman.  Wirtz:  "We have
our differences, but what's that got to do with Christmas?"
(Robert Markus, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 12/23).
     EDMONTON JOURNAL:  Cam Cole writes, "Even if there's no no-
tax proposal on paper, you can be pretty sure one was floated
verbally to the players in last week's low-level negotiations;
and the league's denial simply means it can't stand to be scooped
on its own story.  Wouldn't that be something?  The governors
have been carrying this big stick around, and it may turn out yet
that they have no intention of using it" (SOUTHAM NEWS/OTTAWA
CITIZEN, 12/23).
     L.A. TIMES:  Helene Elliott reports, "Two league sources
said that as long as talks continue, even sporadically,
Commissioner Gary Bettman will not exercise his power to cancel
the season" (L.A. TIMES, 12/23).
     NEW YORK POST:  Larry Brooks writes that there will be a
season starting either the weekend of January 6 or 13.  With the
owners apparently ready to trade their tax for further
concessions, "the negotiations now will focus on restrictions
within Group II salary arbitration.  The league will insist that
players do not become eligible for arbitration their first season
out of the three-year entry-level cap; they will insist that only
Group II contracts be admissible as comparables; they will insist
on the elimination of the option year in the contract, which had
given players arbitration rights both going into and coming out
of that season; and they will insist on non-binding, walkaway
arbitration."  Brooks adds to expect a trade next week in which
the owners give up right-to-match for Group II free agents and
the players agree to "walkaway" arbitration -- in which a team
can release a player instead of accepting an arbitration award
(N.Y. POST, 12/23).
     SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS:  Sharks Owner George Gund believes
both sides are close to settling.  Gund:  "They are very, very
close to a deal .... I expect they will be on the ice in about
three weeks" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 12/23).
     TORONTO STAR:  Damien Cox writes, "The last thing Bettman
wants is to swing a deal that leaves a dozen owners feeling
shortchanged, so for a proposal to go out without a tax attached,
it would need to have enough significant player concessions that
the hardliners won't squawk too loudly.  Similarly, the more
moderate types don't want to see the season cancelled over a
payroll tax system that many of them don't believe would work in
the interests of ownership anyway" (TORONTO STAR, 12/23).
     VANCOUVER PROVINCE:  Gordon McIntyre responds to holiday
season comparisons of Gary Bettman to The Grinch and Bob Goodenow
to Ebenezer Scrooge:  "The Grinch and Scrooge, after all, had
changes of heart before it was too late" (Vancouver PROVINCE,
     WASHINGTON TIMES:  Dave Fay takes a position similar to
yesterday's N.Y. POST report -- that the owners' insistence on a
tax has been part of plan to exact concessions on other fronts.
"When the hockey players sit down and reflect on it, they will
realize how badly they have had their pockets picked" (WASHINGTON
TIMES, 12/23).