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NHL Players Seek Compromise : Hockey: But willingness to accept entry-level salary system alone probably won't end impasse.


The NHL Players Assn. confirmed Thursday it would accept an entry-level salary system if owners agree to drop a proposed levy on payrolls of the top 16 revenue-earning clubs.

However, it's doubtful that alone will persuade the league to lift the lockout, which is in its 42nd day. Owners claim they lost $70 million the last two seasons, and salary controls during players' first three seasons would not produce savings of anywhere near that amount.

NHL officials refused to comment on the seven-hour session, which was held in Buffalo, N.Y. They said Commissioner Gary Bettman will contact union representatives today by phone. Said union chief Bob Goodenow: "We feel we have gone a long, long way in addressing the concerns of the owners. We feel it is a basis upon which progress can be made."

King defenseman Marty McSorley, a member of the NHLPA negotiating committee, called the union's gesture "a significant concession designed to sniff out any desire the owners may have to compromise."

McSorley briefed players about the proposal Thursday, before the opening of a three-day charity tournament in Hamilton, Canada. The exhibition drew 14,640 fans to the Copps Coliseum. "The players in those locker rooms are shaking their heads," McSorley said. "Every one of them is saying, 'Why wouldn't this end the lockout?' "

There are several reasons why it might not produce an agreement.

Dropping the payroll levy would not solve the economic woes of small-market clubs, who would get subsidies from the pool created by levies on payrolls and gate receipts. While there is some sentiment among NHL owners to eliminate the levy, they wouldn't do that without adopting an alternative. The players have not offered any other plans, and on Thursday they eliminated the gradual payroll levy and flat 3% gate levy they had previously proposed.

Nor would an entry-level salary system dramatically slow the rapid growth of salaries, which the NHL claims has pushed it to the brink of financial disaster. According to figures compiled by the NHL, player costs have outstripped revenue growth by $1.14 for every $1 the last five years. Owners want to abolish salary arbitration, which inflates salaries, but players want to keep it in some form.

Another potential pitfall is players' demand to be paid full salaries this season. Owners, who have already lost revenue from six canceled home games and will lose more games, won't agree to that.

Goodenow, possibly hinting that the league will rebuff his offer, said after the meeting, "Unfortunately, no significant progress was made."

Rich Winter, a player agent, said if no agreement is reached by the end of the month he will explore forming a new league.

In separate developments, the league ended a lingering disagreement with on-ice officials and won a court challenge.

Referees and linesmen will receive 72.5% of their pay and a similar portion of the $6,000 playoff bonus each is guaranteed if the season is canceled. They will also be credited with a season's service toward salary increases and pensions. In addition, they will receive full pay until the end of this month.

A federal magistrate in New York upheld Bettman's decisions to void an offer made by the San Jose Sharks to Edmonton's Craig Simpson and to void a portion of an offer San Jose made to Kelly Miller of the Washington Capitals.

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