NHL memo allows clubs to contact players

NEW YORK -- Neither the NHL nor the players' association did anything Saturday to avert a deadline that had ticked down to its last 24 hours for saving what little remained of the season.

"There's nothing going on," NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly told The Associated Press.

A cancellation announcement could come as early as Monday, making the NHL the first major North American sports league to lose an entire season to a labor dispute.

"It's not an issue that needs to be decided in advance," Daly said. "It doesn't have to be decided until Monday morning."

There was no contact between the sides Saturday, who have held to vows not to reach out to the other since talks broke off Thursday. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said if a new collective bargaining agreement wasn't being written by this weekend, there would not be time to have an abbreviated season.

The NHL sent a memo to its 30 clubs on Friday, allowing them to contact players -- something that was forbidden in the lockout that has gone on for five months, Daly told The Associated Press on Saturday.

If enough anxious players call NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow, it could pressure him to seek a last-minute deal.

Players' association senior director Ted Saskin declined comment on Saturday night.

But Daly said he didn't expect the players' association to return to the bargaining table.

The NHL memo also allows team representatives to speak publicly about the lockout without being subject to significant fines.

In October, Steve Belkin, one of the Atlanta Thrashers' owners, was ordered to pay $250,000 for saying the league would use replacement players next year if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached.

"The memo did not encourage club executives to reach out to the players or the media, it just allowed them more flexibility in responding to questions on those matters," Daly said. "The timing
obviously relates to the imminent cancellation of the season."

So Sunday will be a key day in the lockout that has lasted 150 days and claimed 824 of the 1,230 regular-season games and this weekend's All-Star festivities.

"I still hold out some hope something might get done the next few days," Philadelphia Flyers chairman Ed Snider said.

If only someone would take one more shot and pick up a phone or send an e-mail, then maybe a compromise could be made. For now, both sides are clearly trying to call the other's bluff.

The union has held firm that it is not willing to accept a salary cap that ties player costs to league revenues.

"When one party tells another they will never, ever accept something, no matter what, there's no room for negotiation," said Snider, who added that the league's owners are united.

But what if the cap number was an arbitrary figure and no link was required?

The union doesn't seem to be interested in that, either, yet it says that has never been offered as an option by the league. Saskin said the cap has, so far, only been tied into the relationship between revenues and player costs.

Daly didn't completely rule out the idea and said it wasn't proposed by the players' association. Saskin countered by saying that any ideas the league has should be given to the union for discussion.

But after a two-day meeting in Toronto ended badly on Thursday, both sides said they would not offer any new proposals before Bettman's imposed deadline.