PHILADELPHIA - They won't be going back to the
bargaining table, but the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association are going to sit down Wednesday and talk
for the first time since Dec. 14 in an effort to restart negotiations to end the 124-day lockout.
However, the main sparring partners - NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union executive director Bob Goodenow - aren't
"We're doing this without Bob and without Gary to maybe spearhead things," Flyers player representative Robert Esche said
Monday night from New York.
The meeting is an informal tete-a-tete with six participants. Neither side says it will make a new offer and the location
of the meeting is a secret.
The union, which requested the meeting, released a statement Monday night: "In response to media inquiries, the National
Hockey League Players Association confirms that it contacted the National Hockey League today inviting them to have discussions
on a small-group basis. No new proposal is being made by the NHLPA."
Ted Saskin, the union's lead negotiator and senior director, added: "We think it is appropriate and hopefully useful to
engage in these discussions at this time. We are not meeting to present a new proposal and remain committed to reaching a
fair deal that does not include a salary cap."
So far, each side has rejected the other's initial proposal on a new collective-bargaining agreement, as well as each other's
A number of players around the league have suggested that if both sides remove the two antagonists and try to restart negotiations,
perhaps some progress could be made.
Bill Daly, the NHL's executive vice-president and chief legal officer, was surprised to get the invitation Monday.
"I don't really know what to make of it," Daly said Monday night. "The union made it clear they were calling this at (Trevor
Linden's) request and that they were proposing a `smaller group' meeting."
Speaking in Toronto Monday night, Linden told Sportsnet: "We need a face-to-face meeting. We offered up a half-billion
(in concessions) without further discussion. To cancel a season without dialogue is not right. It is not an exclusion but
rather a new dynamic, a new way to look at the situation."
Representing the union will be Linden, the union president, Saskin, and outside counsel Bob McCambridge. Representing the
NHL will be Daly, Calgary owner Harley Hotchkiss, and outside counsel Bob Batterman.
Esche, who is working out with the team at Colgate University, said that Linden has been pushing for this meeting for a
"Our union is trying to spearhead some discussions, get back to the negotiating table and salvage the season," Esche said.
"Look, we want to make sure that if the owners cancel the season, that at least our union tried to save the season. We're
trying to get something accomplished."
There have been rumors for weeks that the league was preparing another offer.
"That was not currently our intention," Daly said.
However, an NHL source said last week that the top revenue-producing clubs - the Flyers, the New York Rangers, Dallas,
Toronto, Detroit and Colorado - have been privately grumbling to Bettman to renew negotiations and get a deal done. Those
six clubs alone accounted for $603 million in revenue last season and stand to lose far more money than the small-market clubs.
The Flyers, who had $101 million in revenues, admit they will lose no less than $15 million if the season is canceled.
Esche said there are players who believe there is "common ground" between both sides. He said if all parties could forget
about "salary cap and focus on something else, then progress could be made.
"We felt if we got together in a much smaller group, then maybe each side can open the other's eyes," Esche said. "Maybe
they'll say something that opens our eyes and vice versa."
Flyers captain Keith Primeau is holding out faint hope that this session might restart negotiations. "We've been hearing
last week that the owners would make another offer," Primeau said. "I hope something positive comes from a much smaller meeting."
Perhaps the session will lead to another offer from the league.
"We'll see what happens on Wednesday," Daly said.