Prospects that NHL training camps will open in mid-September and the season will start Oct. 13 grew dim Wednesday after four hours of talks in Toronto produced no movement toward a new labor deal between the league and its players' union.
After studying concepts submitted by the NHL on July 21 in New York, the NHL Players' Assn. rejected them as "non-starters" that restrain salaries. Ted Saskin, the union's executive director, said the NHL introduced ideas it knew the union would reject because Commissioner Gary Bettman's intent "is to trigger a lockout to put economic pressure on players."
Bill Daly, the NHL's executive vice president and chief legal officer, acknowledged for the first time that time has become a factor in proceeding with the season. Negotiators will meet again Aug. 17 in New York.
"I've always said you really don't expect substantive progress early in the process, and while I hope there might be some progress, we are getting to the point where we need to make progress and I can't say we've made substantive progress," he said in a telephone interview.
"The discouraging thing from my side is they continue to be committed only to the status quo, or a system that resembles the status quo as closely as possible, when in reality, the system will not work for us. We need to do more than tweak it.
The NHL's six July proposals included a system that tied players' compensation to objective criteria, one that limited teams to spending within a negotiated range, another that allocated salary slots to each team, a system in which playoff bonuses would be padded and salaries would be paid according to allocated "units," and a centralized system in which the NHL would negotiate individual contracts with players, agents or the NHLPA. The final system was a hard team cap.
The NHL claims teams lost $273 million in 2002-03. The union disputes that figure.
Saskin said NHL negotiators outlined new revenue-sharing ideas and that the union would examine them more closely. However, Bettman said the NHL would not accept a luxury tax, one mechanism used in revenue sharing.
Saskin also said players wouldn't strike and would play without a new collective bargaining agreement, but said that had not been discussed. A league official said the NHL would not open the season without a new labor deal.