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NHL cancels board of governors meeting

NEW YORK -- The NHL canceled next week's meeting with its
board of governors on Thursday because the league has nothing new
to report in the stagnant collective bargaining process.

The board of governors, representing the 30 clubs, hadn't met
since September when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman imposed the
lockout that reached its 113th day on Thursday and has forced the
cancellation of 571 regular-season games and the 2005 All-Star
game.

"There was clearly a hope, if not an expectation, that we'd be
further along than we are," NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly told
The Associated Press on Thursday night.

There was speculation that Bettman might emerge from next
Friday's meeting either with an announcement that this season had
been called off, or with a final date for saving the hockey year.

"There's not going to be a drop-dead date," Daly said. "We
believe the only important thing is a negotiated agreement that
will work for the sport and the industry long term.

"When we're past the point of no return, I think an appropriate
announcement will be made. But we're not going to give that
announcement in advance."

Rumors also started that the NHL might have come up with a new
proposal that it wanted to run by the board of governors before
presenting it to the players. Daly dispelled that notion and said
it is up to the union to restart talks.

"This board meeting was to update the board on the progress of
negotiations, and since there has been no progress since we
scheduled it, it's not surprising that we chose to cancel it,"
Daly said.

No North American sports league has lost an entire season to a
labor dispute, but the NHL is moving dangerously close to becoming
the first.

"We were hopeful that progress could continue to be made, that
hopefully the union would come forward with a new proposal," Daly
said. "I think that is appropriate, given the fact that they
rejected our counterproposal after only a matter of hours of
consideration. The fact that they didn't is unfortunate."

If the idea was to pressure the players' association to come up
with a new offer in a last-ditch effort to save the season, it
didn't seem to work.

Owners and players haven't sat down at the negotiating table
since last month when the sides met twice within six days.

"I'm sure the reason it was called off was there was no reason
to have a meeting," said Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello,
who represents New Jersey on the board of governors. "Our
commissioner never has a meeting just for the sake of having a
meeting."

The players' association got talks restarted after three months
of silence with a proposal centered around an immediate 24 percent
salary rollback on all existing contracts. Owners rejected that
plan and countered with a salary-cap structured offer.

The NHLPA quickly turned that down and remained adamant that it
would never accept a salary cap. The union's offer featured a
luxury-tax and revenue-sharing system.

Bettman said he has no interest in any kind of luxury tax
proposed by the players.

"I don't know of anyone who believes that the NHL has made one
bona fide proposal aimed at a settlement that could work for both
sides," NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin said. "While the NHL
acknowledged the significance of our Dec. 9 proposal, they
proceeded to intentionally mischaracterize its impact and gave a
response which they knew would provide no basis for further
discussions.

"Collective bargaining negotiations should involve reasonable
attempts by both parties to find middle ground. To date, the NHL
has not given us any signal that they're prepared to negotiate a
compromise that can work for both sides. If this process is to move
forward, it is now up to the NHL to make a proposal that would be
of interest to the players."

Neither side appears ready to alter its previous offers.

"I'm not going to say that it's out of the question that we
would reach out to them because, obviously, we want to forge a new
agreement," Daly said. "But it doesn't sit with us to have to
come back and negotiate against ourselves."

During the last lockout that disrupted the 1994-95 season, an
agreement was reached on Jan. 11, 1995, allowing for a 48-game
season that began nine days later.

If the season is wiped out, it would mark the first time in 86
years that the Stanley Cup wasn't awarded. A flu epidemic canceled
the 1919 final series between Montreal and Seattle.