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Cancellation Likely After 'Pointless' Meeting

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2005; Page D08

The National Hockey League said it likely will cancel the season this weekend after more than two hours of talks in Toronto yesterday between owners and players failed to nudge the sides toward an agreement.

"No new meetings are scheduled and, as far as we are concerned, none are expected," NHL Chief Legal Officer Bill Daly said. "If there are no further developments, the league will make a formal announcement on the status of the season in the near future."

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Daly called yesterday's meeting "pointless" and said the league's negotiating team, which includes Commissioner Gary Bettman, would be returning to New York. Bettman has said that he will cancel the season if a labor agreement is not being drafted by this weekend.

NHL Players Association senior director Ted Saskin agreed that the NHL appeared headed toward a cancellation of the season.

"That's likely where it's heading, given the position that the NHL has taken with their lockout," Saskin said.

The two sides are locked in a philosophical stalemate over how to control rising player salaries, with the NHL insisting on a structure that limits the amount of league revenues that go toward player salaries and benefits. The union is adamantly opposed to any limits on the amount that players can earn, instead preferring a system that taxes teams for spending too much but not strictly prohibiting it.

The league, which said it has lost $500 million in the past two seasons, locked out the players on Sept. 15, resulting in the cancellation of the season so far as well as the all-star game that was scheduled for this weekend. The lockout is in its 149th day today, and both sides agreed yesterday that the NHL has already suffered significant financial damage as well as lost goodwill from its fans.

"The players are obviously taking an enormous financial hit throughout this lockout," Saskin said. "The fans are obviously disenfranchised and probably will be for some time. This is not good for the business in any way."

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