CHICAGO -- In an increasingly wearisome game in which neither side can stop volleying, the NHL lobbed the ball back into the players' court yesterday in strike negotiations in New York.
Hockey, anyone? That question remained unanswered and uncertain as the posturing and bickering continued on the sixth day of the players' walkout.
Fans need a scorecard to tell which side has made the latest proposal. The owners have the upper hand at the moment, saying they plan to issue new contract terms for the players union to study today. They wouldn't say what they were, and the hTC players association will have to decide whether they are worthy of resuming bargaining talks later today.
Sunday's story was that the players had drummed up a fresh bargaining agreement for the owners to consider. Yesterday, after an NHL Board of Governors meeting from which the union was excluded, the governors dismissed this attempt to compromise.
"No votes were taken on it," said NHL president John Ziegler. "None [of their new proposals] went to the key issues. Driving toward an agreement, it wasn't high-octane gas."
Union leader Bob Goodenow said: "We felt with what we presented to the owners we would have the basis for an agreement."
After going public with their side of the issues in the last week, the owners interestingly have decided to draw in the reins on the most recent proposal and return to their normal vow of silence.
"I can't talk about it," said Chicago Blackhawks senior vice president Bob Pulford, a member of the owners' negotiating committee who is in New York. "We've been told to say nothing about it."
Asked if it contained substantive changes that could lead to a resolution, Pulford replied: "Hopefully, we're closer. I'll know more tomorrow. I really don't know."
The NHL is running out of tomorrows. Had there not been a strike, the regular season would have ended Sunday. The playoffs are scheduled to open tomorrow, but even a settlement today would seem to make that unlikely.
As of now, it's hard to find reason to be optimistic that there will be a postseason. Neither side appears ready to relent on two major obstacles: licensing revenues from trading cards and the length of the contract.
Goodenow, informed that Ziegler continued to give the impression the owners weren't ready to barter on the trading-card issue, responded: "Then we have a serious problem, no question."
The owners once didn't care about the relatively small sums the players got from trading cards. But their take has now grown to what management says is $11 million to $12 million, and it will rise to $15 million next season.
Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz, chairman of the Board of Governors, has glossed over the trading-card issue and insisted all along that the only chance for a settlement depends on the union accepting the owners' proposal of a two-year contract (one year retroactive to 1991-92).
The sides don't seem close to a compromise. The players still want a three-year contract (one year retroactive to 1991-92).
"This committee feels it has gone as far as it can go," said Bryan Trottier, a member of the players' negotiating team.