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NHL lockout is imminent with no formal labor talks Saturday

Although informal discussions are happening behind closed doors, the chief negotiators will not officially meet and a work stoppage appears likely tonight.

September 15, 2012|By Helene Elliott
  • Joe Kozlowski of Staten Island shows off a sign picturing NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman as "The Count" from Sesame Street, counting off NHL lockouts.
Joe Kozlowski of Staten Island shows off a sign picturing NHL Commissioner… (Helene Elliott / Los Angeles…)

NEW YORK -- NHL officials and representatives of the players’ union did not hold formal talks on Saturday, setting the stage for a lockout to be imposed by the league when the collective bargaining agreement expires at 11:59 p.m. EDT.

Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, met Saturday with Steve Fehr, special counsel for the NHL Players’ Assn., but Daly said afterward they had made no progress toward resolving their dispute. This would be the third NHL lockout, following a dispute that cut the 1994-95 season to 48 games and another that led to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.

"We had a nice lunch," Daly said. "At this point, we are obviously far apart on so many important issues, it’s not possible to bridge any gap before a lockout. It’s a shame."

Their conversation, he said, was "nothing new that couldn’t have been talked about last winter." Fehr, brother of NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr, said in a statement that the NHL rebuffed the union’s suggestion that they negotiate on Saturday.

"Today we suggested that the parties meet in advance of the owners’ self-imposed deadline of midnight tonight," he said. "Don Fehr, myself and several players on the negotiating committee were in the city and prepared to meet. The NHL said that it saw no purpose in having a formal meeting. There have been and continue to be private, informal discussions between representatives of both sides."

In the meantime, teams scrambled to re-sign players in the final hours of the current labor agreement. The Ducks signed defenseman Cam Fowler to a five-year, $20-million extension, and the Boston Bruins completed a weeklong spending spree of $70.5 million by signing forward Milan Lucic to a three-year, $18-million extension.

In addition, the Kings assigned defenseman Slava Voynov to Manchester (N.H.) of the American Hockey League so he can continue to play during a work stoppage. Many other teams sent eligible young players to the AHL or to their junior teams so those players can stay active.

Training camps are scheduled to open Friday.  The regular season is scheduled to open on Oct. 11. No exhibition games have been canceled but many teams canceled rookie tournaments that were to precede training camp.

Although  Commissioner Gary Bettman wasn’t in his midtown Manhattan office on Saturday, a group of protesters gathered outside the building in front of the nearby NHL Store to protest the imminent lockout. Approximately 25 people gathered from about noon until 3 p.m., many holding signs critical of Bettman and the league.

Joe Kozlowski of Staten Island carried a sign picturing Bettman as "The Count" from Sesame Street. "Counting off all the lockouts,” said Kozlowski, who bought season tickets for the New York Rangers for this year "if it ever happens."

Kozlowski said the last lockout, which led to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, "actually turned me off to hockey for a few years but I’m back into it now. This is the last thing I want to see happening."

The turnout for the protest was short of what organizers had hoped, but they did get some attention from media and passersby. "We just love hockey and there’s not much we can do,” he said. "We can’t not try."

Jhon Carmona of Queens, a high school sophomore, said he worked all summer to afford season tickets for the New Jersey Devils this season and was able to buy them on a payment plan. "The Devils made it to the Stanley Cup Finals and I was really looking forward to the season to see the Devils again,” he said. “I really want to see hockey again."

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