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Little Budging in Labor Talks

October 03, 2003|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

Although NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he looked forward to the opening of the season next week as "a time of optimism and renewal for fans, teams and those of us in the league office," the possibility of a work stoppage in September continued to darken the horizon.

Representatives of the NHL and the players' union met Wednesday in Toronto, their largest gathering in a series of meetings that began in January.

Bettman said Thursday's talks were "a constructive session insofar as we had a candid exchange of ideas and positions." However, Bob Goodenow, executive director of the NHL Players' Assn., was less sanguine.

"Based on what we saw [Wednesday], there's little cause for optimism," Goodenow said Thursday. "Players attended with the view of discussing proposals and owners' concerns in the context of a market-based system. But owners showed no interest in discussing anything but an NFL-style hard cap.... Everything we heard related to an NFL-style hard cap."

Bettman declined to discuss specifics of the session, the first to bring together high-level league and NHLPA officials, players and several owners. But he said during a conference call with reporters the league remained determined to adopt a system that will achieve cost certainty, which he described as "a concept that has a definable relationship between revenue and expenses."

He added, "How you do cost certainty is the type of system that you want, and that we are flexible on, and we have repeatedly said that. But based on the problems we need to address, we have to have cost certainty."

The NHL claims its 30 clubs had operating losses of more than $300 million last season and spent 76% of revenue on players' salaries. The union has been skeptical of such numbers, contending many clubs paint incomplete pictures of their financial health by excluding arena revenue from their statements.

Principals on both sides said talks would continue, but no date was set.

Said Bettman: "There are many more such steps ahead of us, but I prefer that they're behind the scenes, where they belong, so the competition on the ice can get the attention it deserves."

On the ice, the crackdown on obstruction that began last season will continue, NHL Vice President Colin Campbell said.

"We thought it would take three years to get it out, and I thought we made a lot of progress last year," he said. "We're still working on it, and we hope to take it further this year and clear it up by next year and hopefully by this year."

The league will also make surprise checks of goaltenders' equipment close to game time, rather than in the afternoon, minimizing the chances a goalie can present approved gear for measurement, then switch to unapproved gear for games.

"We're going to be more thorough now," Campbell said.

Also, goalies are being videotaped and their equipment logged by trainers, who are required to inform the league of each equipment switch.

Bettman also said negotiations were ongoing with ABC/ ESPN regarding their five-year, $600-million contract, which expires after this season.


Sending the strongest signal yet the Kings will begin the season without forwards Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh, Coach Andy Murray said he is prepared to go on without them for Thursday's opener at Detroit.

"Right now, they're not in the lineup, that's what we're planning," Murray said. "Until they can tell us they can do contact, we're preparing to play a game with the lineup we have now."

Deadmarsh, who has a concussion, and Allison, who has whiplash, have gradually improved from last year's season-ending injuries since training camp began three weeks ago.

Deadmarsh said earlier this week he was "99% there," and Allison skated through his toughest workout yet Thursday.

Still, neither player has been cleared for contact.

They will not play in a preseason game -- tonight is the King exhibition finale against the Mighty Ducks -- and will not be in uniform against Detroit unless there is an unforeseen surge of improvement.


Defensemen Tomas Zizka, who has a broken finger, and Jaroslav Modry, who had off-season shoulder surgery, are expected to play tonight. Defenseman Denis Grebeshkov, who has a severely bruised forearm, could be cleared to play within a few days, Murray said.


Steve Rucchin averaged 21 minutes 5 seconds per game last season. Sergei Fedorov averaged 21:10. Both are expected to play more this season.

That seemingly does not leave many minutes for other Duck centers.

"With Rucchin and Sergei, we have two big guys who can play both ways and are very different types of players," Coach Mike Babcock said. "And the other thing about that is one is going to push the other."

Even if Rucchin and Fedorov log a portion of their minutes on the power play and killing penalties, that still leaves fewer shifts for other centers, including Samuel Pahlsson, who emerged as a quality player during the Stanley Cup playoffs.


Fedorov scored his first goal in an Anaheim uniform Thursday night as the Ducks beat the Phoenix Coyotes, 3-1, in an exhibition game in Phoenix.

Craig Johnson and Joffrey Lupul also scored for the Ducks.


Times Staff Writers Mike Bresnahan, Chris Foster and Associated Press contributed to this story.

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