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Labor Agency Joins NHL Negotiations

By Thomas Heath and Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 14, 2005; Page D01

Lawyers for the NHL and NHL Players' Association met in Washington yesterday in a last-ditch attempt by federal mediators to broker a labor agreement before the league cancels its entire 2004-05 season.

The Federal Labor Agency joined the sides, who have been deadlocked for nearly five months over a labor agreement, in an afternoon session, according to spokesmen for both the league and the union. Meantime, the NHL's self-imposed deadline of this weekend to have an agreement in place passed quietly at midnight.

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Labor agency joins NHL negotiations.
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The meeting was called by Scot Beckenbaugh, acting director of the U.S. Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service (FMCS). Ted Saskin and John McCambridge represented the NHLPA; Bill Daly and Bob Batterman represented the NHL, according to a union statement.

"Today, the parties met for the third time with FMCS officials," said Saskin, the NHLPA senior director, in a statement last night. "There was no progress to report as a result of this meeting, and in fairness to the process it would serve no purpose to comment further."

Under the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, FMCS provides free mediation services in contract negotiation disputes between employers and their unionized employees, according to the agency's Web site.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week that the season would be canceled if the owners and players had not begun drafting a labor agreement by yesterday. That cancellation is likely to come this week and could be as early as today.

If a last-minute deal is reached, there would be a 28-game regular season and the usual four-round playoff, Bettman said.

The NHL would have played its annual all-star game in Atlanta yesterday, but that was canceled -- along with 824 of the 1,230 regular season games to date. If the season is called off, the NHL would become the first North American sports league to cancel an entire season.

The NHL owners locked out the players last Sept. 15 because the union would not agree to an economic system that would place strict limits on players' salaries. Owners claim they have lost more than $500 million the past two seasons and want a link between the amount of money spent on player payrolls and benefits to a specific percentage of overall league revenue. Bettman calls this "cost certainty," and the union refers to it as a "salary cap."

The players' union refuses to agree to any system that fixes limits on players' salaries, which averaged $1.8 million during the 2003-04 season.

The two sides have been locked in a philosophical stalemate over the issue, lobbing proposals back and forth with little progress. The union rejected the league's offer last Wednesday to try playing for two years without a cap on salaries, but with the understanding that the owners' proposed salary cap system would kick in if payrolls exceeded certain levels. The league's compromise also called for a profit-sharing plan that would allow the players' union to evenly split revenue over a negotiated level with the league.

Both sides said late Thursday that no further negotiations were planned, and none were believed to have been held until the federal labor mediators called yesterday's meeting.


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