The beginning of the end

Will commissioner Gary Bettman cancel the NHL season Monday or will talks continue to resolve the...

Will commissioner Gary Bettman cancel the NHL season Monday or will talks continue to resolve the labour dispute between the league and players? (Toronto Sun/Fred Thornhill)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

Over to you, Mr. Bettman.

With NHL owners and players showing little love for each other with the arrival of Valentine's Day, all that seems to be remaining in this ugly labour mess is an official statement from the NHL commissioner that the 2004-05 campaign is over.

Speculation out of New York last night was that NHL officials were expected to discuss shutdown procedures for the league today before handing the microphone over to commissioner Gary Bettman.

With negotiations appearing to be dead in the water, the commissioner then would tell the world that the plug was being pulled on the season. Various reports suggest such an announcement likely would come either tomorrow or Wednesday.

Of course, a last-ditch miracle could conceivably scuttle those plans and save the season.

But there was little evidence that the two sides were anywhere near an agreement over the weekend, leading to projections of gloom and doom.

"I just think this is going to have a negative effect on the game for the next 10 years," former Maple Leaf Luke Richardson, now with the Columbus Blue Jackets, said last night.

With Bettman having imposed a deadline of midnight last night for progress to be made, the weekend was full of behind-the-scenes chatter.

Several players reportedly expressed their concerns about the prolonged deadlock to union head Bob Goodenow and NHL vice-president Bill Daly, while a handful of agents were said to be pushing for the two sides to have more of a sense of urgency.

But the only known meeting of note the past two days accomplished little, if anything.

Representatives of the players and owners held get-togethers yesterday in Washington with members of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Ted Saskin and John McCambridge were on hand for the union, while Daly and Bob Batterman stated the league's case.

"No progress in the collective bargaining process resulted from the meeting. We have no further comment," Daly said in a statement released last night.

Saskin's comments were just as bleak.

"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," Saskin, senior director of the NHLPA, said.

Neither Bettman nor Goodenow were in attendance for the meeting, which had been arranged at the request of a high-ranking federal mediator.

Bettman said last week a deal needed to be put on paper by last night so the NHL could hold a 28-game season and a regular 16-team playoff.

To date, 824 of the 1,230 regular-season games have been lost along with the all-star game, which was to have taken place yesterday in Atlanta.


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