- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- If indeed a players and owners-only meeting comes to fruition, count New York Rangers team owner and MSG chairman James Dolan as a willing participant.
A source familiar with Dolan's thinking confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com a New York Post report that Dolan was interested in becoming involved in the labor dispute that has kept his team off the ice for months. As owner of the New York Knicks, Dolan was integrally involved in the NBA lockout last year and, if called upon, would become engaged in the labor talks between the NHL and NHLPA as well.
The development comes after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman proposed to the NHLPA a meeting between owners and players only -- no NHLPA or league staff involved -- to jump-start a negotiation process that has soured and threatens to jeopardize the entire season altogether. Bettman suggested the meeting after mediation talks broke off on Thursday.
The NHL has yet to receive a response from the NHLPA on the idea, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed to ESPN via email Saturday afternoon.
According to a source, the parameters of said meeting will likely play a significant role in whether the NHLPA accepts the invitation. If the NHL wants to control the owners invited to attend -- i.e. the four that have consistently attended negotiating sessions so far: Jeremy Jacobs, Ted Leonsis, Craig Leipold and Murray Edwards -- the players are less likely to consent.
If the meeting provides an opportunity to appeal to the more moderate among the ownership, however, the union may view it as a beneficial move.
Pittsburgh owner Ron Burkle and Montreal owner Geoff Molson are other owners who have asked to get involved.
Dolan's Rangers were recently ranked by Forbes magazine as the second-most profitable NHL team beyond the Toronto Maple Leafs. When asked about a potential lockout earlier this summer, Dolan told ESPN: "All I can say is that I want us to play hockey."
Months have passed and the puck has yet to drop, causing participants on both side to become frustrated with the current state of affairs.
Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Henrik Lundqvist recently vented through his official Twitter account, writing: "If the plan is to have meetings between players and owners to solve this mess, maybe it's time to allow teams that actually are carrying the league financially to get involved. So far I haven't seen any invitations to the meeting room..."
If the NHLPA does agree to the meeting, it would likely make sense to take place on Tuesday in advance of Wednesday's Board of Governors meeting in New York.
Information from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun was used in this report.
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