The National Hockey League Players Association postponed a strike deadline from noon yesterday until tomorrow to allow its members to vote on the latest proposal from NHL owners.
Bob Goodenow, head of the NHLPA, recommended that players reject the latest offer and call the first strike against the NHL in its 75-year history. Goodenow said the extension was made because "the overall feeling was to allow the players the opportunity to vote on the offer."
Goodenow conducted a 90-minute conference call with the player representatives of the 22 teams and said the move was made to emphasize the seriousness of the situation.
"We wanted the players to understand it wasn't just threatening the Stanley Cup playoffs but might jeopardize the start of next season," he said.
Management's offer was for a one-year deal that would cover the rest of the current season. The previous agreement expired last Sept. 15.
"We aren't out of woods by any means, but at least we're still breathing," said Washington Capitals general manager David Poile, a member of the Owners Committee. "I was hoping that we'd get things settled today [yesterday], but this is certainly better than the alternative. Maybe this two-day breather is something both sides needed. Now we can sit down and analyze the situation. Hopefully, something good will come from this [the delay]. No one wants a strike."
Dino Ciccarelli, Capitals right wing, said: "I think the guys are concerned about a strike because we are going so well right now and we don't want to let anything go stale. But we have confidence in our player representatives [goalie Mike Liut and left wing Kelly Miller] and Bob Goodenow."
"No further negotiations are planned," Goodenow said. "We are not in agreement now, and if there isn't one by [tomorrow], there will certainly be a strike."
Goodenow, asked if there was a chance players would accept the offer, said: "I can't imagine that. I think they will certainly listen to what the negotiation committee is urging them to consider. I think it could be a long strike."
Ryan Walter, Vancouver center, said: "The ball is definitely in their [the owners] court now. We've made numerous concessions, and I don't believe we can make any more. A strike now would not be good for the sport. But we [the players] have to stand together. These negotiations should have happened earlier in the year, and everything would have been worked out by now."
After yesterday morning's practice at Piney Orchard rink, Capitals coach Terry Murray said: "I'm sure the 22 teams don't want to see a strike. My job is to go forward with the job of preparing my team for the game with New Jersey [tomorrow] and get ready for the playoffs. I have to keep them going. But there are things [a strike] that are beyond my control and I can't afford to worry about them."
Capitals goalie Don Beaupre said: "We have taken a stand, a stand we have remained consistent with. It was well thought out and is justified."
Ziegler said Sunday he was willing to continue the talks.
"If further discussions can help," he said, "I am ready, willing and able to travel anywhere."
Along with considering the players' proposal, the owners discussed contingency plans should a strike occur.
"We talked about all the things that might happen with the strike," Ziegler said, including checking into building availability should the two sides eventually come to an agreement and an extension to the season be necessary.
"But there comes a time when we run out of time."
NHL representatives have talked to public relations directors of the 22 teams to establish a course of action to deal with a walkout. The NHL also has augmented its telephone systems at Toronto, Montreal and New York to handle increased calls.
No mention was made of using minor-league players as replacements in the event of a strike.