Amidst the possibility of an impending training camp lockout by NHL teams, commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday it would be "business as usual" when players take the ice this week.
"We're trying to make a deal," Bettman said in a statement from his New York office. "Our goal is to make a deal. As far as any other issues are concerned, we are operating on a day-to-day basis as if it were business as usual."The "other issues" Bettman referred to apparently included the growing sentiment among NHL players that owners would lock them out of training camp when teams start reporting on Thursday unless a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
"A strike or lockout (is a) distinct possibility," said Mike Gartner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, president of the NHL Players Association. "I hope neither one of them happens, but they are possibilities when both sides can't come to an agreement."
Gartner said there were "different talks going on on a very informal basis right now" between the NHLPA and the league, but nothing serious.
"I think there's communications betweeen the two sides," said Gartner, who was interviewed at a charity golf tournament in the New York area. "There always have to be. Whether there's any formal discussions that are set up, I don't know of any right now."
A spokesman for the NHLPA said there were not.
"There's no meeting scheduled between (NHL executive director) Bob (Goodenow) and Gary (Bettman)," said Steve McAllister, manager of media relations for the NHLPA. "We're willing to sit down and negotiate as long as a salary cap is not a part of the talks."
The so-called "salary cap" has become a dirty phrase as far as both sides are concerned - for different reasons.
Salaries are the main sticking point in the stalled negotiations. Owners, steadfastly refusing to call it a salary cap, are seeking to tie salaries to team revenues. The NHLPA, on the other hand, seeks to have salaries set by the open market. The players' ultimate goal: free agency, something owners have rejected wholeheartedly in negotiations of past years.
The players, who staged a 10-day strike in 1992, have been without a CBA since last Sept. 15.
Thursday looms as an important date in the contract disagrement. It is that day that Bettman has set to make a league statement with a series of sanctions that Gartner called a throwback.
Bettman has said that if a new CBA is not worked out by then, he will impose a series of sanctions, such as eliminating meal allowances, forcing players to pay their way to training camp and reducing rosters.
"As of Sept. 1, he has not rolled back a lot of things - he's rolled back everything," Gartner said. "We're back - if we work under this type of an agreement - to the '40s and '50s type of agreement. You know what type of a plan that was back thirty or forty years ago, and that's the type of agreement we're going to be working under."
The Winnipeg Jets are scheduled to open camp on Thursday, the first of the 26 NHL teams. The Jets have plans to fly to Helsinki, Finland, on Sunday and play in a four-team tournament with three Finnish teams.