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The NHL Show Does Not Go On : Hockey: Owners and players re-examine strategy as two-week negotiating period begins.


The lasers didn't shine in Dallas' Reunion Arena Saturday. Smoke didn't billow out of the huge shark's mouth in the San Jose Arena. It wasn't hockey night in Canada.

Twelve NHL arenas, which were to echo Saturday night with the joyful noise of opening-night ceremonies, instead were silent while owners and players reassessed their strategy for the two-week negotiating period ordered Friday by Commissioner Gary Bettman.

If a labor agreement is reached by Oct. 15--or if Bettman is satisfied that "good faith" negotiations are taking place--75 games will have to be squeezed into the current schedule or added on in April. If owners and players are still feuding, games will be canceled and the start of the season put off indefinitely.

More than 100 players met in Toronto on Saturday with Bob Goodenow, executive director of the NHL Players Assn., for what Goodenow called an informational session. The attendance list included Patrick Roy, Eric Lindros, Steve Yzerman, Cam Neely, Ray Bourque, Trevor Linden, Paul Coffey, Mike Gartner, Dale Hawerchuk and Vincent Damphousse.

"The players that were here all wanted to be on the ice (Saturday)," Goodenow said after the six-hour meeting.

He added that he intends to call Bettman today to arrange additional talks.

In an effort to promote its image as the innocent party in this dispute, the union took out an ad in 29 Sunday newspapers across North America with an open letter to fans signed by "The 700 members of the NHL Players Association."

It reads: "When we showed up to play last night, the doors were locked and the lights were out. Yesterday, the NHL slammed the door shut on 700 hockey players and millions of fans around the world. It is difficult to understand the logic behind this decision."

Goodenow remains uncertain whether the union and the NHL can reach an agreement before Bettman's new deadline.

"There are some real differences between us," Goodenow said. "I don't think we should minimize them."

Said Maple Leaf defenseman Todd Gill: "We had 16 months to get something down and nothing happened. We tried everything in our powers and couldn't make a deal. I'm sure if you asked them, they'd say the same thing."

Teams have made practice facilities available to players, but none apparently will accept the offer. Some planned to use the unexpected time off to visit relatives, while others rented ice time on their own and conducted informal workouts to stay in shape. Goodenow said Friday that players would not participate in formal practices as long as they are not being paid.

Jeremy Roenick, the Chicago Blackhawks' union representative, arranged for teammates to skate Monday at a suburban Chicago arena he co-owns. "We'll have it at my rink," he said. "We don't need their ice."

The Blackhawks, who were to open the new United Center today, issued a statement to rebut rumors that owner Bill Wirtz opposed Bettman's decision to delay the start of the season because Wirtz is eager to open the $175-million arena and begin repaying money he borrowed to build it. Should the season start Oct. 15, the Blackhawks would make their United Center debut on Oct. 20.

The opening of the Kiel Center in St. Louis, set for Oct. 11, will also be put off until Oct. 16 under the reconfigured schedule.

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