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Bettman Wants to Resume Talks

Five months after last bargaining session ended in acrimony, NHL commissioner seeks to reopen dialogue with union chief Goodenow.

March 05, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sent a letter to players' association boss Bob Goodenow this week, formally requesting a resumption of collective bargaining talks, which stalled after an Oct. 1 session ended in acrimony.

Bill Daly, the NHL's executive vice president and chief legal officer, said Thursday he expected Bettman and Goodenow to speak soon and set up a meeting.

"You want to keep the lines of dialogue as open as possible so you can discuss things and see if you can make any kind of progress toward a better understanding," Daly said after participating in a panel discussion of sports labor issues at the Octagon World Congress of Sports in Newport Beach.

Daly said that he and Ted Saskin, senior director of business affairs for the NHLPA, had had "a candid discussion" Wednesday during the Mighty Ducks' game at the Arrowhead Pond. Although they traded verbal volleys as panelists Thursday, Daly said the NHL was willing to be creative to achieve a healthier balance between revenues and player costs.

Last month, a league-commissioned analysis said that teams spent 76% of revenues on player costs last season and had losses of $272 million, putting them on "a treadmill to obscurity." The NHLPA contends that the league's only proposal was for an NFL-style hard salary cap, which it won't accept. The NHL has said its proposal was not a salary cap. The current labor agreement expires Sept. 15.

"I think we clearly are entrenched on philosophical issues," Daly said. "[Saskin], at this point, has made very clear that the players' association is unwilling to consider negotiating a fair share of the gross [revenues] and that's something we're committed to negotiating. Whether you can find ways around that ... we're committed to trying to make this work. We've said cost certainty is important to us, but maybe there are other ways to achieve cost certainty.

"If we can talk about the share-of-the-gross philosophy, how it operates is fertile ground for design and experimentation, with the goal -- which I think they share -- of reducing the disparities and putting clubs closer to playing on a level playing surface."

Saskin confirmed that Goodenow had received a letter and a call from Bettman and would talk to Bettman soon. However, Saskin said he wasn't encouraged by what he'd heard during the two-day gathering of TV network executives, officials of clubs from the four major sports and players' union officials.

"I heard [Bruin owner] Jeremy Jacobs say that one of the big issues he wants to see addressed is competitive balance, and I think we've already got a resolution to that issue in our sport," Saskin said. "Just watch the playoff races unfold....

"Each side certainly knows the viewpoints of the other side and, hopefully, ... the requisite compromises can be made. Certainly, we remain open to discussion...."

Pierre Boivin, president of the Montreal Canadiens, said Wednesday that a lockout would have "a profound effect" on the NHL but was "absolutely necessary" to bring about an economic overhaul.

"Clearly, we have to fix the player payroll," he said. "We are past the point of death. I don't know where we're going, but it sure

Greg Jamison, president and chief executive officer of the San Jose Sharks, said his club had ventured into areas such as building and operating a theater and hockey rinks because it had maximized revenues from all other hockey sources. To be profitable, he said, the Sharks would have to go "deep, real deep [in the playoffs] and there's only four rounds."

The Toronto Maple Leafs have announced plans for staff reductions if there's a lockout, and Jamison and Boivin said their clubs would soon discuss that issue.

"It's something we must come out of stronger as a team," Boivin said of a lockout.

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