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No deal, no budging, no end; no surprise

By TOM JONES
Published February 5, 2005


It's becoming more apparent by the day that the NHL is hesitant to pull the plug on the season. It's also apparent, however, that the NHL and the players' union cannot clear the hurdles to end the lockout.

Where does that leave things? In limbo. Once again, the NHL and the union are stuck with no agreement, no scheduled talks and little hope.

After a marathon nine-hour meeting Thursday, the sides met for another four hours Friday in New York, but the talks ended with union leaders headed back to Toronto and no deal in sight.

The NHL painted the talks as being "extensive and constructive," but the union sounded dire.

"We met the last couple of days, tried to cover some issues and maybe a few new issues to see if there was a possibility of some common ground and some traction, but that isn't the case," players' association executive director Bob Goodenow said. "The parties agreed to stay in touch, but there's really no progress to report of any type. That's the reality."

What little hope remains is because the league refuses to cancel the season.

"While there are no future meetings scheduled, we have agreed to keep the lines of communication open," NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly said. "Despite several media reports to the contrary, we have no intention of making any further announcement relating to collective bargaining or the status of the season."

For the first time since mid December, Goodenow and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spearheaded the talks. But 13 hours could not produce enough common ground for the sides to carry their talks into the weekend. If the sides talk again, it likely won't be until next week.

"It's frustrating," Lightning center Brad Richards said. "I think that's the best word more than anything."

The major stumbling block is a salary cap. The owners say the league cannot survive without a hard salary cap, but the players refuse to accept one. They have offered salary rollbacks and a luxury tax as a way to curb payrolls.

"I see a luxury tax system that will work, but the league isn't willing to look at it," said former Lightning defenseman Jassen Cullimore, who signed with the Blackhawks last summer. "I think they're stuck on a cap and I think they're going to try to force it down our throats. I don't think we're ready to be forced."

Philosophical differences remain but it's possible the sides are trying to figure out a temporary solution to save the season. Then, perhaps, they could hammer out a permanent deal in the summer.

"They're trying to do everything humanly possible to try to get the game back on the ice," Devils CEO and general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "If there is reason to believe that there is hope and a chance, then I think you use that time. ... We have to have some patience."

Patience, though, means time and that's running out. As it stands it's unlikely a season would be more than 30 or so games plus playoffs. It's believed, however, the lockout could last another month and the league could still try to play an abbreviated season.

"I would love to see them keep talking, which is a dreamer's dream," Lightning defenseman Brad Lukowich said. "They're set on doing certain things and we're dead set again it. Someone was saying it's like mashing two pieces of paper together. It's never going to happen until you rip up those pieces of paper and put them back together to form one piece of paper. If you just keep smashing them together, it never will happen."

Heatley gets probation

Thrashers star Dany Heatley was sentenced to three years' probation after he pleaded guilty to charges in the death of teammate Dan Snyder.

Heatley also was ordered to give 150 public speeches about the dangers of speeding. In exchange, the only felony charge - first-degree vehicular homicide - was dropped along with a charge of reckless driving. The accident happened Sept. 29, 2003 in Atlanta.

Times staff writer Damian Cristodero contributed to this report, which used information from the Associated Press.