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Optimism Subsides in Negotiations : Hockey: Club executives say players' compromises are insignificant.


Club executives on Friday dismissed salary concessions that players had called significant efforts to end the NHL lockout, quashing hopes they might reach an agreement in time to open the season in early December.

"It's much ado about nothing, that's the best way to describe it," said Tony Tavares, president of the Mighty Ducks. "The only encouraging thing is they're talking. . . .

"You can look at it two ways. The first is the optimistic: they're negotiating. The second is the pessimistic: For all the hoopla, there wasn't much there."

A management source told the Canadian Press, "It was the most insignificant concession in the history of labor negotiations."

Commissioner Gary Bettman discussed the overture with the league's executive committee during a conference call Friday, but there was no vote on it. Bettman is expected to present a counterproposal to union chief Bob Goodenow Tuesday or Wednesday in Toronto. They spoke twice Friday but could not agree on a weekend meeting date.

As expected, players agreed to restrictions on entry-level salaries and gave up arbitration for any player on his first contract, on the condition that owners drop their proposed payroll levy. Players also agreed to accept two-way contracts, which impose a lower pay scale if they are sent to the minor leagues, and maximum and minimum minor league salaries for all rookies.

"It was very, very insignificant from everything I can see," Tavares said.

However, Ron Salcer, a player agent, said the offer would satisfy owners' desire to slow salary escalation even though it eliminated payroll and gate levies that would have helped subsidize small-market clubs.

"I've talked with a number of (club) presidents and their feeling was if you have these restraints and then if you can't control your budget and work with these constraints, maybe you should move," Salcer said.

"I believe the owners are going to have to move off the salary cap because the players are going to say, 'Next time you cancel games, you might as well cancel the entire season because this is as far as we're going to go.' "

The NHL has canceled 14 games from each club's schedule, even though 230 games overall have been missed.

"I think it would be difficult to have hockey before Dec. 1," King General Manager Sam McMaster said. "Maybe Jan. 1 if we get down to negotiating."

Times staff writers Lisa Dillman and Robyn Norwood contributed to this story.

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