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NHL Sides Are Talking, Sort Of : Hockey: Management, players are quick to give their opinions, but still are not negotiating.

October 18, 1994|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Everyone is talking in hockey's labor dispute--but not to each other.

Brian Burke, NHL senior vice president, on an eight-city informational tour, will be in Los Angeles today for a news conference. But there has been no contact between the NHL and the players' union since last week.

Union chief Bob Goodenow, in his Toronto office, took note of Burke's rhetoric and had some things to say himself. They are old friends and rivals. At Harvard, Goodenow played against Burke in the '70s when Burke was at Providence, then worked with Burke as an agent and now finds himself on the opposite side again.

"He's obviously putting out the party line, saying the players are uninformed," Goodenow said. "He's trying to put out fires, to redirect focus. He knows better than anyone else that it's old-fashioned management-union talk. The players have never been more informed.

"The other thing is, he is trying to overcome some of the negative press in the small markets--that they don't care about the small markets."

There is a school of thought that a new messenger--Burke, instead of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman--might put a different spin on the league's message, especially in Canada, where Bettman has been sharply criticized.

"They're trying to put a fresh face on the league because they've gotten the . . . kicked out of them," Goodenow said. "The image is one of distortion. We have a lockout. When basketball starts, they'll look even worse."

Goodenow is aware that several teams, including the Kings, have met with small groups of players. Some teams are opening the books, claiming severe financial problems. Others are telling the players Goodenow has not been keeping them up to date.

"A lot of teams are doing that," he said. "It's part of their plan to divide and conquer. I say the players are receiving everything (they need to know). . . . We had more than 100 players come in Oct. 1. We met with every team and we're constantly having conference calls."

More recently, unidentified management sources have been quoted as saying the players' union will cave in after two or three missed paychecks.

"I think it is the owners' hope," Goodenow said. "They've got to say that. There's no question the players want to play. They say they want to play. But they should know the players are prepared for a long fight."

In another development, Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, has sent a fax to federation members, backing off on an earlier edict instructing them not to sign NHL players. During the weekend, the Swedish and Finnish federations threatened to sue.

The IIHF also was in danger of damaging its relationship with the union regarding player participation in the World Championships and Olympics.

In Helsinki, King forward Jari Kurri and Winnipeg right wing Teemu Selanne practiced Monday for 90 minutes with their new team, Jokerit, in the Finnish League. "The situation in the NHL gets to you, and playing here calms me down and takes the thoughts away from the problems," Kurri said.

Meanwhile, King defenseman Marty McSorley, a member of the NHLPA's negotiating committee, has decided not to play for Las Vegas of the International Hockey League.

McSorley's agent, Michael Barnett, said the defenseman, 31, believed he couldn't devote enough time to his union responsibilities and the Thunder. "He felt like he didn't want to be put in a position where the PA (players association) had an emergency meeting and he had a game and would have to say no to them," Barnett said.

As for Goodenow and Bettman, there are no immediate plans to resume negotiations.

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