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TIME IS RUNNING SHORT FOR NHL TO RESUME LABOR NEGOTIATIONS

SHARE TIME IS RUNNING SHORT FOR NHL TO RESUME LABOR NEGOTIATIONS

With time running perilously short, the NHL and the union have yet to schedule the next round of bargaining, with the next move up to the lead negotiators.

The lockout entered its 79th day Monday, and the earliest full bargaining could resume is Tuesday."I am just waiting for a phone call to tell me when and where," Glen Sather of Edmonton, one of five general managers who attends the meeting of the full bargaining teams, told The Canadian Press on Sunday. "I expect I will hear something."

The lines of communication remained open Sunday, the day after "some progress" was made in a five-hour meeting in Toronto of two negotiators for both sides.

After the talks ended, Toronto general manager Cliff Fletcher said the next step would have to be made by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Bob Goodenow.

"When the next meeting will be held depends on what Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow decide," Fletcher said. "Both sides will have to take stock and then I assume they will then decide when the next meeting will be held."

Bettman and Goodenow maintained their silence Sunday. They have talked to each other only once since negotiations broke off Dec. 6.

Sunday's communication amounted to telephone conversations between the lieutenants for both sides, along with discussions in both camps.

There's a chance the small groups, which include Fletcher, could meet again Monday or Tuesday before both sides assemble their full bargaining teams.

"People from both sides were planing on getting together (Monday) but now that schedule may change," Goodenow told the CP. "Nothing has been set."

Considering the Christmas travel problems, if full talks begin Tuesday or Wednesday, negotiations likely would adjourn on Friday to allow the participants to return home. Negotiations then could resume Dec. 26 at the earliest, providing the two sides were making progress.

Philadelphia general manager Bob Clarke feels a deal has to be completed this week.

"If it isn't, we are in trouble," Clarke said. "I don't think anybody is kidding ourselves. We are running real short of time."

After talks broke down, Bettman and Goodenow went eight days without talking before deciding to put their confidence in low-level negotiators.

The informal groups have met three times, trying to iron out the problems that have created an 11th-hour impasse in collective bargaining.

Basically, it's a give-and-take process on the core issues - a rookie salary cap, free agency and salary arbitration. The groups avoided discussion of the controversial payroll tax, which the players say is unacceptable and the owners feel is nominal at best.

"I talked to Peter (Pocklington, the Oilers' owner) and he talked to Bettman the other day and he said he was getting a little more optimistic but who knows," Sather said.

Should negotiations fail to resolve the differences, the decision on when to cancel the season is for Bettman to make.

So far, the NHL has canceled 24 games for each team, cutting the schedule to 60. The last cut was Nov. 17.

"It is a slow process and an ongoing process," Fletcher said. "Hopefully, we are both working in the same direction."