NEW YORK -- The NHL season is dead -- again.
After 6½ hours of negotiations, with Wayne Gretzky and Mario
Lemieux at the bargaining table, talks broke down Saturday, leaving
the already canceled hockey season beyond saving.
"It's certainly not going to be resurrected after today,"
players' association senior director Ted Saskin said. "It's 100
percent certain coming out of today's meeting that nothing could
impact the cancellation of the season."
Just three days after the season was called off because of the
protracted lockout, the NHL and the union restarted talks at an
undisclosed location in New York.
Commissioner Gary Bettman and players' association executive
director Bob Goodenow weren't in attendance, but two of hockey's
greatest stars were.
"Mario and I were happy to be part of the process, and everyone
seemed to work very hard together," Gretzky said. "We had a
constructive meeting, and we only hope they will continue meeting
for the betterment of the NHL and its fans."
On Wednesday, Bettman canceled the season, saying it was too
late to play any semblance of a schedule. That made the NHL the
first major North American sports league to lose a full season to a
And now the focus shifts back to trying to reach an agreement as
soon as possible so next season isn't lost, too.
Gretzky and Lemieux were joined on the owners' side by NHL chief
legal officer Bill Daly and outside counsel Bob Batterman, while
the union was represented by Saskin, director of business relations
Mike Gartner, players' association president Trevor Linden, vice
president Vincent Damphousse, and outside counsel John McCambridge.
"The talks were cordial and informative, but revealed that
there remain significant differences that need to be discussed and
resolved by the parties," Daly said. "No new proposals were made
by either side. While no new meetings are scheduled, we remain
committed to continue working through the process until a new
agreement can be reached."
Linden said Daly called him on Thursday night and invited him
back to the table. Some players urged Linden not to go, but the
Vancouver forward gave talking another try.
"I know that today was not good," Linden said "From both
sides, this is not a good situation.
"It's basically uncharted territory. Where we go from here? I
don't know if anyone is sure."
Before Daly called Linden, there was no official contact between
the NHL and the players' association since Tuesday night -- when the
sides traded what they said were final offers.
All proposals were rejected, and Bettman canceled the season at
a news conference Wednesday.
"I hope all parties continue talking and come to a solution for
the betterment of the game," Lemieux said.
Bettman said in a letter to Goodenow on Tuesday that the
league's salary-cap proposal of $42.5 million was as far as he
could go and that there was no time or flexibility for negotiation.
Goodenow sent a letter back, proposing a soft cap at $49 million
that could be exceeded by as much as 10 percent by teams twice
during the course of the six-year deal.
It appeared there was momentum toward reaching a deal and the
season had a chance to be saved, because the sides were only $6.5
million apart on their cap numbers. But talking ceased after each
side sent two letters to the other on Tuesday night.
There were big breakthroughs Monday in Niagara Falls, N.Y., when
the NHL agreed to drop its demand that player costs be linked to
league revenues, and the union, in turn, came off its steadfast
opposition to a salary cap.
Bettman said the NHL couldn't afford the union's final proposal
and said if all 30 teams spent $49 million on player costs, then
more money would be paid out to players than last season.
"I can't see anything worse than what they put on the table
today," Saskin said Saturday.
The commissioner said that teams lost more than $1.8 billion
over 10 years, the last time a collective bargaining agreement was
reached. The previous lockout cut the 1994-95 season down to 48
games per team.
NHL clubs claim to have lost $273 million in 2002-03 and $224
million last season.
Bettman had said a deal would have to be in the drafting stages
by the end of last weekend if there was going to be time to play a
28-game season and a standard 16-team postseason.