Owners, players trade barbs as strike deadline approaches

March 28, 1992

With time running out on NHL contract negotiations, talk is getting tough.

With the clock ticking toward a player-imposed strike deadline of noon Monday, and league officials prepared to walk away from the table tonight in Toronto, the owner of the New Jersey Devils delivered a harsh blast at the players.

"The biggest mistake the owners could make right now would be to concede," John McMullen told The New York Times from his New Jersey office. "The owners have nothing to say whether they strike or not. I have to say that they probably will.

"But see, I don't give them (players) too much credit for too much intelligence. . . . I think hockey's mistake was trusting them. We should have never opened the season without an agreement.

"If they don't take the thing that is on the table, they will never see that offer again," McMullen said.

His sharp words come amid growing tension at the downtown Toronto hotel where both league president John Ziegler and Bob Goodenow, executive-director of the players' association, have drawn lines in the sand.

Officially, the players say they will strike at noon EST Monday, but the owners had, for all intents and purposes, advanced the deadline to midnight last night.

Ziegler announced Thursday night that he and governors will meet tomorrow in Chicago, agreement or no agreement.

Ziegler did, however, hold out the possibility that talks might resume tomorrow night or Monday in Toronto.

"I think the next 24 to 36 hours will really show if that [an agreement] is achievable," Ziegler said after nine hours of talks Thursday didn't bring the sides any closer to averting the league's first strike.

"I don't think I can call it [today] a deadline -- it's a practical one," said Ziegler. "If we don't have an agreement and with a strike called for Monday, we have to have our management and our ownership know what to do when the players strike."

Serge Savard, general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, was unimpressed with the pace of the talks when he arrived yesterday.

"I should have stayed in Montreal," said Savard, besieged by reporters as he strolled to a washroom.

Ed Snider, owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, made his first appearance at the talks. A heavy-hitter in league politics, Snider said he didn't fear a strike.

"If that's what they want to do, let them go ahead," he said.

Bill Wirtz, the Chicago Blackhawks' owner and chairman of the league's board of governors, remained absent from the talks. He is reported to be vacationing in Florida.

Both sides have given the negotiators the right to settle the disagreement.

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