|03-07-2005, 10:03 PM||#1|
lets go partner
Join Date: Oct 2004
Dumb and dumber pulling our chains again
NHL labour talks are back on and Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett said Monday he is hopeful the two sides can reach agreement quickly.
Gillett said commissioner Gary Bettman asked the NHL Players' Association to return to the bargaining table and union executive director Bob Goodenow accepted.
The talks will take place later this week at an undisclosed location. Bettman and Goodenow are both expected to attend.
"I'm hopeful because any time you get the parties together, there always has to be hope," Gillett said after making a guarded address to the Canadian Club in Montreal. "And the fact that the commissioner asked for it and Mr. Goodenow said yes, that always gives us hope."
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McKenzie: Talks will be good indicator
The news comes one week after both sides met separately, the union in Toronto and the league in New York, following the cancellation of the season by Bettman, who said he would invite the union back to the table soon.
"We are committed to seeing hockey this fall for the fans," said Gillett.
When when asked what the owners may offer to get hockey back, he said "That's up to the commissioner and the governors.
"We took a unanimous vote to do everything in our power to try to negotiate a fair and favourable arrangement between ourselves, the players and the fans to create some competitive balance among the teams."
While the players have already lost a season's worth of salaries and aren't scheduled to get paid again until whenever the puck drops for next season, the league has plenty of reasons to kick-start talks.
The league wants to save the NHL entry draft and conduct a normal off-season in order to re-launch the game and try to win back fans.
And Bettman warned last week the more damage to the league, the less money owners will have to pay players.
Gillett said that if an agreement is not reached soon, fans and sponsors will find other ways to spend their money.
"I think we're in a situation where if we don't get something done relatively soon, the credibility with our fans, advertisers and sponsors will diminish even further and we'll have an even smaller amount of money to share between players and owners. And the players' stake can get nothing but smaller in the process."
Gillett declined to give a date needed to settle the dispute in order to prepare normally for the 2005-06 season, but said they are "very close to that date."
The Canadiens owner, whose speech was planned months in advance, said he was told by Bettman to watch his words. He joked to about 150 Canadian Club members at a luncheon at a downtown hotel that he put his speech in writing in case Bettman wanted to fine him.
He took questions from the floor and from reporters after the luncheon, but declined to answer some questions relating to the talks.
And while he is firmly behind the owners' wish to control player salaries, he said he bore no ill will toward the players.
"You will never hear me say anything bad about the players or the players association," he said. "What you will hear me talk about is the system. The system is broken and I think the fans know that and they'll come back if we can fix it.
However, he said there "an information gap" between the two sides.
"I think we need to understand better where the players are coming from and they need to understand better the economic circumstances of the league," he said.
It will be the first bargaining session since Feb. 19, when the sides met in an attempt to save the season three days after Bettman cancelled it. But even the presence of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux wasn't enough to get owners and players to reach an agreement.
The NHL listened to a $3.5-billion US offer last week from an investment firm and a sports advisory company to buy all 30 teams and take control of the league. Several clubs have said they aren't interested in selling.
Gillett said he doubted there was any amount they could offer that would convince all the owners to sell.
"The tone in the room was very respectful, but I didn't sense a significant amount of support from the owners," he said.
On Feb. 15, the night before the season was cancelled, the NHL made its final offer of a team salary cap of $42.5 million US.
The union agreed to drop its opposition to a salary cap once the league removed its demand that any deal include a link between revenues and player costs. But its last cap offer was at $49 million US, and allowed for teams to go as high as $53 million US twice during the six-year agreement.
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 US apart on their cap numbers. But that didn't happen. There weren't even any discussions of a cap number during the last negotiating session.
Now all previous offers are off the table, and Bettman has said that linkage is now back in play. He warned the union that any future deals will be worse than ones already rejected.
Bettman has said that teams lost more than $1.8 billion US over 10 years, the last time a collective bargaining agreement was reached. NHL clubs claim to have lost $273 million US in 2002-03 and $224 million US last season.