SUN Hockey Pool

Silent night this Christmas

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

The only sound on the NHL front yesterday was silence as Day 100 of the lockout approaches -- on Christmas Day.

Talks between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association broke off a week ago in Toronto and no further discussions are planned. So there's a good chance nothing will happen in the labour dispute before the clock strikes 2005 on Jan. 1.

League sources told the Sun yesterday that they wouldn't be surprised if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman refuses to declare a drop-dead date for the season's cancellation because of the NHL's desire to eventually use replacement players.

Though the league has denied it's trying to break the players' union, sources say a reason Bettman hasn't cancelled the season is because the NHL wants to leave talks open to show it is bargaining in good faith.

BOARD RULING

Indications are Bettman and the owners will eventually ask the U.S. National Labour Relations Board to declare an impasse in the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Sources say the union will respond by fighting to have the expired CBA put back in place.

The NHL will argue it has bargained in good faith and will ask the NLRB to allow it to impose its own rules in order to re-open the workplace.

A source says the impasse scenario would work like this:

- The NHL would declare the lockout over and invite all players under contract to training camp. Sources say the league hopes 30% of the union's members would cross the picket line and return to work.

- Teams would round out their rosters by signing players from the minor leagues and Europe to continual 25-game tryouts. That would leave room for other players already under contract to return.

- Each team would operate under a $31-million US salary cap.

- Labour laws in B.C. don't allow replacement workers, so it's been suggested on the West Coast that the Vancouver Canucks would play home games in Seattle or Portland until the issue is completely settled.

The union will contest the declaration of an impasse by challenging whether the NHL has bargained in good faith.

"If the NLRB finds the NHL did bargain in good faith, the imposed system stands and the NHL is cleared to begin operations using replacement players," a league source said yesterday.

"If the NLRB finds the NHL didn't bargain in good faith, the NLRB can order both sides back to work under the terms and rules of the expired CBA (which means the old system).

"The great risk for the NHL if they lose before the NLRB is that they'll have to work with the old CBA and there'll be no 24% rollback (in wages, as proposed in the players' last offer)."


Videos

Photos